A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

For the second time, the judge in the trial of Richard Scrushy, founder and former CEO of HealthSouth (Birmingham, Alabama), last week gave instructions to the jury now deliberating in the case charging him with masterminding a $2.7 billion accounting fraud at the firm.

Jurors told U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre that they were having difficulty coming to an agreement on the charges, which have the significance of representing an initial test of new Sarbanes-Oxley rules that hold a company's top executive responsible for the accuracy of the company's accounting practices.

Bowdre told jurors that in order to find Scrushy guilty of the accounting conspiracy, they must agree on at least one of the many charges against him. And she encouraged them to "work hard" on reaching a "unanimous verdict."

The jurors' difficulty in reaching such a unanimous decision may indicate that the case could be heading for a mistrial.

A string of former HealthSouth financial executives have already been found guilty in the accounting fraud, but the key issue is whether or not Scrushy knew what was happening and was essentially responsible for the fraud. The number of charges against him are multiple and he could spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty, observers say.

His defense team is hoping that for a finding of "reasonable doubt," while prosecutors are downplaying the possibility of a jury deadlock.