NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors in the bribery trial of a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were told to take Wednesday off to wait out a storm after the jury foreman revealed deliberations were at an impasse and three jurors asked to be excused.
Prospects for a mistrial for Joseph Percoco and three businessmen rose considerably when four notes arrived at noontime from a jury that had been largely quiet and seemingly proceeding smoothly until beginning its fourth day of work on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni ordered jurors to resume their work. When they finished for the day two hours later, she told them they could take Wednesday off because of an approaching storm. She instructed them all to return Thursday morning to resume their deliberations.
"Jury duty can be burdensome," she said. "The parties to this case, however, are entitled to your best efforts to reach a verdict."
Her instructions came after the jury foreman wrote: "We cannot come to a unanimous consent. We are largely divided in opposing views. The only thing we seem to agree on is that we cannot agree."
For six weeks, jurors had mostly been listening to evidence the government presented to prove its claim that Percoco, a longtime confidante and top aide to New York's Democratic governor, had accepted more than $300,000 in bribes from the businessmen who needed his help with state business.
Prosecutors made much of Percoco's use of the word "ziti" in emails to claim he knew he was accepting bribes. The term was used in the HBO mob drama "The Sopranos."
But defense lawyers said there was no evidence to show any bribes were made or that Percoco did anything unusual to help the businessmen.
Cuomo has not been accused of wrongdoing.
The deadlock claimed by jurors came as they wrote separate notes saying their personal hardships had become too great to overlook.
"I believe I cannot do this anymore!" wrote one juror.
"I regret to say I can no longer continue after today," wrote another.
That juror cited personal circumstances and the impasse, saying: "We have some very fundamental differences and nobody wants to compromise our own beliefs and/or process."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg recommended one juror be excused and replaced with an alternate juror.
The judge, though, said she was not inclined to embrace that option because it would require restarting deliberations.