NEWARK, N.J., Nov 23 (Reuters) - The murder prosecution of a former New Jersey federal prosecutor and defense lawyer ended in a mistrial Wednesday. Jurors in Newark federal court announced that after more than five days of deliberations, they were deadlocked in the trial of Paul Bergrin, who is accused of encouraging drug dealers to kill a witness against one of his clients.
Bergrin, 55, was charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the killing of Kemo Deshawn McCray, who was gunned down on a Newark street in 2004.
At about 10:30 Wednesday morning, on the sixth day of deliberations, the jury panel of seven men and five women sent a note to U.S. District Judge William Martini saying that they had exhausted discussions and taken multiple votes in a "good faith" effort to reach a verdict.
"We have concluded, regrettably, that we are at an impasse," the jury wrote, according to the note Martini read into the record.
On Monday, the jurors had informed Martini that after numerous polls they were divided on both counts against Bergrin, but they followed the judge's instruction to keep trying.
After Wednesday's announcement, Lawrence Lustberg, the lawyer appointed by the court to assist Bergrin, who was representing himself, requested a mistrial. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gay asked the court to bring the jury out and ask them whether it would help them to return on Monday.
Martini passed along Gay's request, but after less than 15 minutes, jurors sent another note saying they had asked themselves the same question. "We have concluded with certainty that it would not," the note said.
Martini then said, "It is clear to me that they are hopelessly deadlocked and that further deliberation would not be fruitful."
"Five days is a significant amount of jury deliberations," the judge added. "It was two counts and one defendant, so they had ample time to deliberate."
'FULLY PREPARED FOR THE NEXT TRIAL'
Following the mistrial, Lustberg announced that the defense would file a motion seeking an acquittal. Martini established a tight briefing schedule and set Jan. 4 as the next trial date.
Martini told the lawyers that if there is any discussion toward a resolution between the parties, he wants to know by Dec. 16, because hundreds of notices would have to be mailed to potential jurors for a new trial.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said: "While it is disappointing the jury was unable to reach a verdict, we are fully prepared for the next trial."
But whether the government retries Bergrin on the murder charges, he faces at least one more trial, because Martini severed the murder charges from a 33-count indictment.
Among the remaining counts are allegations that Bergrin and others conspired to murder someone dubbed "Junior the Panamanian," a witness against Vincent Esteves, who was Bergrin's client and who had been charged with drug trafficking in Monmouth County. Unlike the present case, the government has audio recordings from 2008 capturing Bergrin's conversations with a confidential informant the government dubbed "the Hitman." During those talks, the government said, Bergrin discussed killing the witness and told the Hitman to make the murder look like a home invasion.
'NO KEMO, NO CASE'
McCray was a confidential informant in a drug case against Bergrin's client William Baskerville. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey said the veteran lawyer told members of a drug gang that the only way to secure Baskerville's freedom was to get rid of McCray. During a meeting, Bergrin allegedly told them, "No Kemo, no case."
The government's case hinged on the testimony of Anthony Young, who said he was McCray's shooter. The prosecution said Young and other members acted on Bergrin's advice and that it was the lawyer's legal strategy to get rid of McCray.
During closing arguments, Bergrin berated the prosecution for calling a series of witnesses who had struck deals with the government to testify in exchange for more lenient sentences.
The case is the United States v. Paul Bergrin, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 09-0036.
For Bergrin: Pro se, Lawrence Lustberg and Amanda Protess of Gibbons
For the government: Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Gay, Joseph Minish and Steven Sanders
(Reporting by Jennifer Golson)
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