Jurors in the corporate fraud trial of fired HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy told the judge yesterday they couldn't reach a verdict and...

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Jurors in the corporate fraud trial of fired HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy told the judge yesterday they couldn’t reach a verdict and needed an explanation “in layman terms” of a key conspiracy count.

In messages to U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre on the fourth day of deliberations, the jury said her instructions seemed contradictory regarding the conspiracy count, which encompasses allegations of fraud, false corporate reporting and false statements to regulators.

Scrushy is accused of conspiring in a nearly $2.7 billion earnings overstatement scheme at the medical rehabilitation and services chain.

The judge met in private with lawyers after recessing the jury deliberations until today.

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Jurors later said their uncertainty concerned count one, the conspiracy charge which could have implications for the other 35 counts now being deliberated.

The judge said a private meeting wasn’t possible “because the parties, who have a vested interest in the case, have the right to be present whenever I communicate with you about the case.”

After the jury’s latest messages, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said outside court that the judge would provide the jurors with an answer today. She called the 36-page verdict form that the jury must fill out “very complex.”

Defense lawyer Art Leach said the entire case is complicated and “the potential for confusion is unlimited.” He said it is too early to tell which way the jury is leaning based on the questions.

Jurors got the case last week after hearing dozens of witnesses over 3 ½ months.

The jury is deliberating the first 36 counts against Scrushy. The panel will deliberate 12 additional forfeiture counts if Scrushy is found guilty in the first phase.

Scrushy is the first chief executive charged under the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate-reporting law. He also is accused of conspiracy, fraud, false reporting and money laundering.

Prosecutors claim Scrushy led a huge fraud at the rehabilitation chain from 1996 through 2002. The defense blames the accounting scheme on former subordinates, including 15 one-time HealthSouth executives who pleaded guilty.