CHICAGO (AP) — Deliberating jurors at a major racketeering trial of the purported leaders of Chicago's notorious Hobos gang sent a note to the presiding federal judge on Thursday saying they are deadlocked on at least one count after four full days of deliberations.
The primary charge in the 10-count indictment is the racketeering conspiracy charge that applies to all six alleges Hobos leaders including purported boss Gregory "Bowlegs" Chester and hitman Paris Poe. Nine other stand-alone counts include drug and gun charges.
At the biggest gang trial in recent Chicago history, prosecutors told jurors the Hobos cultivated a reputation for brutality, once torturing someone with a clothing iron. Some witnesses were visibly nervous testifying and one refused outright to testify "for the sake of me and my family."
The afternoon note Thursday doesn't say which count the 12 panelists are stuck on, but it makes clear there is disagreement. And it at least raises the prospect that there could be a hung jury after three months of often chilling testimony and sometimes complex legal arguments.
"There are some strong beliefs on both sides," the jury note says. Without fully explaining, it added that one juror "refuses to give a guilty verdict" and "at least one...refuses to give a not guilty verdict" on one count.
U.S. Judge John Tharp, who read the note in open court and outside the presence of jurors, told attorneys he needed to be careful about not appearing to pressure jurors. In the end, he sent a back to the jury room that read simply: "I have received your note. Please continue deliberating."
Jurors are taking Friday through Monday off, returning to deliberate only on Tuesday after the long New Year's holiday weekend.
If jurors remain deadlocked over coming days, the judge said he could give them a special instruction, known as the Silvern Charge, that uses firmer language about a juror's duty to do their best to reach a decision. But Tharp said he's "reluctant to bring out the canon at this stage."
Thursday's note was the clearest sign of jurors' struggles to reach unanimity. But there were some earlier hints of trouble. One juror, referred to only as Juror No. 49, sent a note to the judge at the end of the first day of deliberations, asking if he could be dismissed from the jury.
"For me to sit here for a week or more ... is a waste of my time," he told Tharp in court later. After the juror said he thought he could still fairly judge the evidence, Tharp told him he was keeping him on the jury.
The alleged crimes jurors must deliberate on include Poe allegedly killing government witness Keith Daniels in 2013 in front of his screaming step-children to stop him testifying, standing over him and shooting him at close range.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at @mtarm