- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A judge yesterday ordered deadlocked jurors to keep deliberating in the trial of Richard Scrushy after they reported being unable to reach a verdict on charges accusing the fired HealthSouth Corp. CEO of orchestrating a $2.7 billion overstatement of the medical chain’s earnings.

Prosecutors and the defense ruled out any plea deal as a possibility of a mistrial loomed, and both sides predicted victory.

“I believe we have the majority of them, and I’m expecting a not guilty verdict,” Mr. Scrushy said outside the courthouse.

Two hours into their 10th day of deliberations, jurors sent a brief, handwritten note to U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre.

“We regret to inform the court that after many days of deliberating we were unable to reach a verdict of either guilty or not guilty of any/all counts,” said the message signed by juror No. 157, the foreman.

With jurors seated in court later, Judge Bowdre told them: “This trial has involved great time and exceptional effort by both the government and the defendant.”

“If you should fail to agree on a verdict, the case is left open and must be tried again,” she said.

Reading from an “Allen charge” instruction meant to prod jurors toward a unanimous decision, Judge Bowdre addressed the possibilities of how the jury may be split.

If a “substantial majority” favors conviction, the judge said, those who want an acquittal “should reconsider whether your doubt is a reasonable one.” If other jurors are favoring a not guilty verdict, Judge Bowdre said, those pushing for conviction should “ask yourselves again, and most thoughtfully,” whether the evidence is really good enough for a guilty verdict.

Jurors appeared somber during the hearing and ended deliberations a few minutes earlier than scheduled after again failing to reach a verdict. They return Monday.

The trial began Jan. 25, and the judge has indicated at least some jurors are trying to work their regular jobs besides hearing the case.

Outside court later, both sides dismissed any possibility of a plea bargain. Prosecutor Richard Smith said there had been no discussions of a settlement as deliberations dragged on.

“We’re not striking a deal,” he said.

With his wife Leslie at his side, Mr. Scrushy also dismissed the idea of a negotiated guilty plea.

“We really believe they will come back with a not guilty verdict,” Mr. Scrushy said.

The jurors, who took a day off Thursday after one of them reported being ill, previously sent the judge notes saying they could not reach a verdict on a complicated conspiracy charge against Mr. Scrushy.

The jury asked several questions seeking to clarify the conspiracy count, and members deliberated several days without additional messages after Judge Bowdre cleared them to move on to other charges. But the latest note didn’t seek any explanations.

Mr. Scrushy is the first CEO charged with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reporting law. In addition to conspiracy, Mr. Scrushy is also accused of fraud, false reporting and money laundering.

Mr. Scrushy is accused of directing the accounting scheme at the Birmingham-based rehabilitation and medical services chain over seven years beginning in 1996. The defense blamed the fraud on Scrushy subordinates, including 15 one-time HealthSouth executives who pleaded guilty.

Mr. Scrushy, 52, could be sentenced to what amounts to life imprisonment if convicted. Prosecutors also are seeking $278 million in assets they claim are tied to the fraud.

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