NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — There was more drama Thursday at the Bridgegate trial in New Jersey, as defense attorneys asked for a mistrial for reasons unknown.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the request for a mistrial came seven weeks into the trial and four days into jury deliberations. It also came three years since the lanes from Fort Lee onto the George Washington Bridge were closed.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton did not rule Thursday on the request from attorneys for two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie –- Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni — but she did deny their request to give new instructions to jurors on the top conspiracy count in the indictment.
A brief filed by defense attorneys with Thursday’s mistrial motion was almost completely redacted with thick black lines. Federal prosecutors also submitted a motion to seal a letter they sent to the judge, saying it was based on matters addressed in a closed courtroom Wednesday.
Judge Wigenton also said no to the defense when they asked to have the jury reinstructed on a question asked on Tuesday.
Wigenton had earlier said yes to the jury question, “Can you be guilty of conspiracy without being intentionally punitive towards Mayor Sokolich?” Prosecutors claim the lanes were closed to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie for reelection in 2013.
The judge’s answer caused a heated battle. The judge sided with prosecutors, citing previous cases finding that “motive” does not have to be proven for the defendants do be found guilty.
Defense attorneys argued vehemently that Wigenton should instruct jurors that they could find Baroni and Kelly not guilty if they felt the government hadn’t proved Sokolich was the intended target. But Wigenton refused.
Kelly defense attorney Michael Critchley called the ruling against reinstructing the jury unfair, having built his case to prove that Kelly did not “conspire” to shut down lanes in Fort Lee as political retaliation.
There were no open courtroom arguments Thursday on the motion for a mistrial – only papers files.
Under conspiracy law, the motive or intent behind a conspiracy doesn’t always have to be proved; only the agreement to break the law does. In this case, the primary crime alleged was misusing the property of an organization receiving federal benefits — the Port Authority.
Jurors have deliberated for parts of three days without reaching a verdict. They resumed deliberations Thursday morning.
While waiting inside, Critchley told CBS2 that the anxiety is building. He said Kelly and her children are family to him, and he continues to maintain Christie was involved in the closures.
Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Baroni was Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority at the time of the lane closures in September 2013.
Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot and wasn’t charged. But Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein all testified Christie was informed about the lane closings either before or while they were going on.
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