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Riddle of junk mail trial: Did he mean to steal?

A federal jury deliberated 6{ hours Wednesday over the fate of a former postal carrier charged with stealing seven pieces of junk mail _ longer than it took to present all the testimony in the case.

And they're still not done.

Jurors in the case of William Santiago are scheduled to resume their deliberations 9 a.m. today in federal court. Late Wednesday afternoon they announced they were struggling to reach a verdict. But the judge urged them to keep trying.

There is agreement about most of the facts in the case: that the 52-year-old Santiago, while employed at the Pinellas Park post office, took seven pieces of mail for his own use almost a year ago.

The mail included clothing catalogs from Victoria's Secret and other companies, a movie theater guide and a True Story magazine addressed to a woman who had died.

Santiago resigned in March after 27 years with the Postal Service, shortly before he was to be fired.

Santiago has testified that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. All of the mail he took, about 20 pieces, was destined to be thrown out, he said, because the pieces had bad addresses or were not otherwise deliverable.

But federal prosecutors and postal inspectors portray Santiago's acts as theft, pure and simple. They argue the integrity of the mail system depends on the delivery of all pieces of mail it accepts _ whether it's first-class or fourth.

Though some of the addresses were bad, they say, Santiago failed to follow the proper procedures for what is technically known as "undeliverable bulk business mail." Such mail is thrown out after it is checked by another clerk.

Jurors have wrestled with the case 90 minutes longer than the five hours it took to present testimony. Santiago's intent is a key issue, because so many of the facts are undisputed.

As he instructed the jury on the applicable law in the case, Senior U.S. District Judge H. Dale Cook said that to convict Santiago, jurors had to decide he took the mail "voluntarily and intentionally," acting with a "bad purpose" to disobey the law.

The judge's instructions followed closing arguments from prosecution and defense. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachelle DesVaux Bedke said, "Stealing is stealing _ no exceptions."

Santiago's bearing after he was confronted by postal officials showed "he knew exactly what he was doing," Bedke continued.

"The defendant told the postmaster what he did was wrong. Then he resigned."

In an equally impassioned statement, Assistant Federal Public Defender Anthony Martinez said, "Was he intending to steal? No. Was he intending to violate the law? No."

Martinez reminded jurors that Santiago took some of the mail by writing his own address over the top of the original address, in a way that was fully visible to his coworkers.

"Is that concealing? Impossible," Martinez said.

Santiago faces three counts of embezzling postal matter entrusted to him as a carrier. Each count carries maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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