DALLAS (CN) — Federal jurors in the John Wiley Price government bribery trial were deadlocked Tuesday, increasing the chances for a mistrial or acquittal of the Dallas County commissioner and his assistant after numerous missteps by prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn met the jury in chambers for several minutes in the midafternoon before calling for attorneys on both sides. She then called court back into session to read jurors the Allen charge – a set of instructions that encourages federal jurors to keep trying to reach a verdict.
Lynn told jurors to go home to “watch some television” and “take a few deep breaths,” then come back Wednesday to try again.
Dressed in a dark suit and bowtie, Price, 66, grinned and waved at his supporters as he left the courthouse.
It is unknown how many of the 11 bribery, mail fraud, conspiracy and tax fraud charges against Price or the two charges of lying to federal agents and conspiracy against Price’s assistant Dapheny Fain the jurors are deadlocked on, nor how many of the jurors are split.
Prosecutors spent eight weeks telling the jury that Price pocketed more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning.
Nealy will be tried separately from Price and Fain.
Prosecutors say Price did not report the money on his income tax returns or on his state-mandated financial disclosure forms.
Price says the money is from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash found at his home belonged to Fain. He says he held it for her to keep her from spending it on shopping.
Lynn might declare a mistrial if jurors fail to reach a verdict. If she does, prosecutors are likely to try Price and Fain again, as several embarrassing failures to turn over evidence to the defense has tarnished their years-long investigation of Price.
Judge Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”
Exactly what charges the jurors are deadlocked on are key, as the judge warned prosecutors before closing arguments last week that she will probably throw out the six mail fraud counts against Price even if the jury decides to convict. Lynn said at the time it is “virtually impossible” to convict based on the prosecution’s poor job of connecting use of the U.S. Postal Service to the alleged crimes.
During closing arguments, the defense argued that the prosecution’s parade of testimony and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case is built largely on circumstantial financial records.