Jury deliberations in the tax evasion trial of actor Wesley Snipes ended early on Wednesday after jurors signaled a roadblock when they sent a note to the judge.
"Further clarify the definition of 'conspiracy' as contained in our instructions," Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said the note read.
Hodges told jurors to end their deliberations for the day and go home. He'd respond to them when they return today at 9 a.m., the judge said.
Federal prosecutors have charged Snipes, 45, and two co-defendants with conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service. The U.S. Attorney's Office accused Snipes of filing false tax return claims for 1996 and 1997 asking for refunds totaling $11.4-million. They said he conspired with Eddie Ray Kahn, a Lake County resident whom Snipes hired as a tax consultant, and Douglas Rosile, a Venice accountant who worked for Kahn.
After the jury left, Hodges called the attorneys into his courtroom to reveal the jurors' question. With none of the defendants present, Hodges asked the attorneys to think about how he should respond. He planned to meet with them at 8:30 a.m. today for suggestions.
"This is a critical stage in the proceeding, and the presence of the defendant is necessary," Hodges said.
Jurors heard closing arguments in the case on Tuesday. They spent about six hours discussing the evidence during the first full days of deliberations, taking a lunch break just before noon and an afternoon break, much like Hodges allowed during the course of the trial.
David Wilson, Rosile's attorney, said he wouldn't begin to worry until four or five days passed without a verdict. If that happens, he said, it could mean the jurors are stuck on an issue.
Besides the conspiracy and filing a false claim charges, the October 2006 indictment charges Snipes with six counts of failure to file income tax returns from 1999 to 2004. If convicted on all the charges, he faces a maximum of 16 years in federal prison.