Stevens Verdict Pushed Closer to Election

Deliberations in the corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens came to a sudden halt this morning, pushing a possible verdict in the case closer to Election Day.

The father of a female juror, identified only as juror No. 4, died suddenly and she is on her way to California to be with family. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan delayed the trial until next week to accommodate the missing juror and to allow time to determine the next step in the case.

Sullivan could put deliberations on hold until the juror returns to Washington or allow an alternate to step in, which would require jurors to go back to square one with their deliberations.

The Alaska Republican, 84, is on trial for allegedly concealing $250,000 in gifts, including the value of a massive home renovation project, primarily paid for by a former oil services firm executive and his company, according to prosecutors. Stevens has denied the charges.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, has held his seat since 1968 but is in a tight race with Democrat Mark Begich.

Sullivan said that he spoke with the juror Thursday night by phone and wished her "Godspeed" on her return home. He said that he would speak with her again Sunday night to see when she might be able to return to Washington.

Sullivan will hold an open public session in his Washington, D.C., courtroom Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, to announce how jury deliberations will proceed.

The court summoned an alternate juror this morning. The judge briefly questioned her to determine whether she could serve on the jury if needed. Sullivan asked her whether she had seen any media reports or spoken with anyone about the case since he dismissed her Tuesday.

She responded that people in her office said they knew why she was away and wanted to talk to her, but she said she had declined their requests to discuss the case.

If Sullivan brings in an alternate, the jury will have to restart its deliberations, which have so far been fraught with issues such as another juror's "violent outburst" Thursday and a deliberations process that became "kind of stressful" Wednesday.

"These folks probably need a break -- we started on Sept. 22. These folks have not missed a day," Sullivan said when he announced the halt to deliberations.

"I'll speak with her Sunday, to see if she has the desire to participate and the ability to participate," he said of the absent juror.

Sullivan seems inclined to wait to speak to the absent juror Sunday night to see what her plans are and possibly resume deliberations Tuesday or Wednesday, one week before Election Day.

The 11 other jurors were dismissed for the day. Sullivan and the court will contact them Sunday evening to let them know whether they will need to be back Monday or Tuesday. He stressed the importance of avoiding media reports and said that they should not speculate about what happened to their fellow juror.

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