A two-year quest by Attorney General Martha Coakley to prove corruption charges against former state treasurer Timothy P. Cahill ended in a deadlocked jury Wednesday, a result that Cahill called “total vindication” even though it leaves the charges pending against him.
Coakley did not say whether she would retry the case, which lasted five weeks in Suffolk Superior Court and which led the jury to deliberate for more than 40 hours before Judge Christine M. Roach declared a mistrial.
One juror said there was a “variety of different opinions” as the jury wrestled with the question of whether Cahill conspired to use a $1.5 million, publicly funded lottery ad blitz to boost his faltering campaign for governor in 2010.
“It was a complicated crime, and the definition of conspiracy is complicated,” said the juror, who declined to give his name and said he believed Cahill was not guilty. “The jury worked really hard and really long to come to a decision, and, at the end, we couldn’t.”
The case was a major test for Coakley, who prosecuted Cahill after facing criticism that she had failed in the past to aggressively pursue cases of political corruption. It was also the first test of a 2009 state ethics law that was passed in response to the corruption scandal involving former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
The resulting mistrial seemed to send a muddled message about the dangers of elected officials using public resources to enhance their political images, a common gray area for many who send out state-funded newsletters or appear in public service announcements.
There was little reaction Wednesday on Beacon Hill, where Cahill served as treasurer before bolting the Democratic Party to run for governor as an independent.
“It was a mistrial, so there isn’t a message,” said Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat who defeated Cahill and Republican Charles D. Baker in the 2010 governor’s race. “It’s an inconclusive message, at best.”
The juror said the panel of 12 did its best. The group included nurses, construction workers, and writers. One juror who knew shorthand took notes, as the group worked through 170 exhibits, many of them e-mails and text messages, and tried to piece together a plot involving pollsters, political consultants, and ad executives allegedly involved in the scheme.
“People had strong feelings, and they communicated that from time to time, but it was very adult and civil,” said the juror, who owns his own design firm. “It was quite reasonable, actually.”
Cahill had argued that he ran the ads only to rebuild the image of the state lottery, which he said had been damaged by attack ads run by the Republican Governors Association.
His campaign manager, Scott Campbell, who was a codefendant in the case, was acquitted Tuesday.
When the judge declared a mistrial Wednesday, Cahill, 53, embraced his wife and relatives, who wept. The former treasurer, who was charged with two counts of conspiracy, was facing up to five years in prison if convicted.
“The government had a job to do, and they spent two years doing it, and spared no expense and that was to find me guilty, which they did not do,” Cahill said outside the courtroom. “So I feel it was total vindication, and I couldn’t have been happier with the [jury] service.”
He said it did not matter to him that that the jury deadlocked, rather than cleared him of the charges.
“I can certainly understand if there were some jurors in there that were sticking to their guns,” he said. “As someone who always stuck to his guns, I can respect that. I have nothing but good things to say about the jury, the judge, my lawyers and the way we conducted ourselves.”
Speaking at a press conference an hour later, Coakley said she was exploring her options before a Jan. 4 hearing to review the status of the case.
If she decides not to retry Cahill, Coakley and the former treasurer could try to resolve the charges pending against him by negotiating a plea deal or a civil settlement involving a fine. Any such resolution would require the agreement of both parties. Neither Coakley nor Cahill broached the subject on Wednesday.
“I continue to believe in the strength of this case and the strength of our justice system,” Coakley said.
The prosecution hinged on a trail of e-mails, phone records, and text messages that allegedly showed Cahill’s political operatives discussing the timing and content of the lottery ads with executives at Hill Holliday, the Boston agency that handled the lottery’s ad account.
“Faced with this evidence, we certainly could not ignore it,” Coakley said.
Coakley said it was clear the jury carefully weighed the evidence, which included testimony from 24 witnesses, Cahill among them.
She declined to say how much the case cost to pursue and would not say whether she felt the failure to secure a conviction would hurt her political career.
“The nature of public corruption is such that it is often behind the scenes, and it can be insidious,” Coakley said. “It is difficult to prevent, and it can be very difficult to expose and prove accountability beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jurors.”
The juror who declined to give his name said the group grappled in particular with the question of whether they could convict Cahill of participating in a conspiracy after acquitting Campbell, his alleged coconspirator.
“The conspiracy is the issue,” the juror said. “If you look specifically at the language of the statute, the conspiracy language in particular, it’s very precise. And the fact that you can’t conspire with yourself was certainly a factor.”
The juror said that Mike Sheehan, Hill Holliday’s chief executive, and Al Grazioso, the lottery’s former chief of staff, were alleged to have participated in the scheme but were not indicted, further complicating the deliberations.
“There were two people who were named as coconspirators who weren’t in the room, and who we never heard from, so we were actually kind of surprised about not seeing one or two of those people,” he said. “It would have been helpful to have some testimony from them.”
Lynne Anderson, an alternate juror from Jamaica Plain, did not participate in the deliberations, but said she heard her colleagues had struggled. “I heard it was tough at times, but people were really civil to each other as far as I could tell,” she said. “Most felt the evidence suggested he was guilty.”