With Sen. Ted Stevens' fate and possibly the outcome of his re-election race hanging in the balance, jurors in his corruption trial declared themselves stressed out after a few hours' deliberations Wednesday and went home early.
Four hours after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan declared, “the case is yours,” the eight women and four men passed the judge a note.
Things had become “kind of stressful,” jurors said, and they asked to go home for some “clarity.” They left without reaching a verdict.
It took Sullivan an hour and 20 minutes to read through 81 pages of instructions to the jury on how to apply the law to the evidence it had heard.
Stevens, 84, is charged with seven felony counts, including lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts he received from his friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen.
Over 15 days of testimony, prosecutors presented evidence that Stevens had received some $250,000 in gifts and services from a group of close friends, especially Allen, former chairman of VECO Corp. Allen, who's pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska legislators and is awaiting sentencing, was the government's chief witness.
The defense said Stevens was unaware of VECO's role in the renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska.
Each felony count carries a punishment of up to five years in prison. Jurors are forbidden from considering potential punishment when they decide the senator's guilt or innocence.
The longest-serving Senate Republican, Stevens is locked in an unusually tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. Democrats are trying to capture a filibuster-proof Senate majority, and they have jumped at the chance to wrest control of a seat that Stevens has held for 40 years.
Republicans, meanwhile, have handled the situation delicately. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, has refused to endorse Stevens. And Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the election and trial were linked.
“If the trial comes to a conclusion and, as he believes, that he is found innocent, I think that he will win that election up there,” Ensign said Tuesday. “If it goes the other way, obviously it really won't matter what happens in the election.”
Indicted in July, just three months before the election, Stevens gambled and asked for an unusually speedy trial, hoping he'd be exonerated in time to win his seat. But the monthlong trial has been hard on Stevens' image.
Testimony revealed that employees of oil services company VECO Corp. transformed the senator's house from a small mountain A-frame into a handsome, two-story house with wraparound porches. Prosecutors mocked the legendary Senate figure as a phony who for years has had his hand out for favors.
Stevens said he paid every bill he received for the renovation and believed that all the work was covered. McClatchy Newspapers contributed.