WASHINGTON - A federal judge on Sunday dismissed one of the jurors at Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial after losing contact with the woman following her father's death.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan plans to seat an alternate juror Monday morning and order the jury to start their deliberations over from the beginning, a setback for Stevens' attempt to get a verdict before Alaskans vote on Election Day.
"I think we've been more than reasonable," said Sullivan, who said court officials had not spoken with the juror since Friday despite repeated attempts to contact her.
In the Senate since 1968 and now its longest-serving Republican, Stevens is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure documents to conceal $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from a friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen.
Stevens has proclaimed his innocence. He is locked in a tight race with Democrat Mark Begich for his Senate seat, and had hoped for an acquittal before Election Day.
Defense lawyer Robert Cary argued for Sullivan to delay his decision until noon Monday in case there was a reason the juror had not contacted the court. "She may be on her way back," Cary said.
But Sullivan said court officials had repeatedly tried to contact the juror to no avail. "She has, for whatever reason, chosen not to communicate further with the court," the judge said.
The judge also dismissed suggestions to continue deliberations with 11 jurors, saying a restart of deliberations would not eliminate that much work. "They haven't been deliberating that long," he said.
Sullivan shut down what would have been the third day of deliberations on Friday, after the juror rushed to California following her father's death on Thursday night. The judge prepared one of the four alternate jurors that same day, and will speak to her again Monday morning before adding her to the seven women and four men currently on the jury.
The trial, which began Sept. 22, has been beset by problems since the case went to the eight women and four men on Wednesday. Within hours, jurors asked to go home, sending a note to the judge saying that things had become "stressful." On Thursday afternoon, in a more explicit note, jurors asked the judge to dismiss one of their own.
"She has had violent outbursts with other jurors, and that's not helping anyone," the note read.
Sullivan did not send home the juror in question. Instead, he called jurors into the courtroom and told them to "encourage civility and mutual respect among yourselves."
Tension in the jury room normally is viewed as good for a defendant. It increases the likelihood that jurors will not reach the unanimous decision needed for a verdict. Without unanimity, a trial ends in a mistrial and prosecutors must decide whether to start over.