Jurors in the trial of a Lakewood rabbi accused of arranging the kidnapping and torture of husbands to extract religious divorces completed their first full day of deliberations without reaching a verdict on Thursday.
In deciding the fate of Rabbi Mendel Epstein and three others, jurors briefly interrupted their deliberations to ask two questions of U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton, but ultimately did not come to a conclusion.
Epstein, a prominent rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings, is on trial along with his son, David “Ari” Epstein, and two other rabbis, Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, on conspiracy and kidnapping charges that grew out of a federal undercover sting.
A couple hours into their deliberations, jurors sent a note asking whether knowledge of someone’s confinement against his will constitutes kidnapping.
In a written reply, Wolfson told them it does not constitute kidnapping but that they should ask for clarification if they need to know how that relates to the other charges.
In the second question shortly after lunchtime, they asked whether planning – but not participating in – an attempted kidnapping shows an intent to commit the crime. Wolfson instructed them to read the original explanations she gave them.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon before being excused for the day. Deliberations resume on Monday.
Prosecutors charged that the elder Epstein arranged the kidnapping, beating and torture of husbands who refused to give their wives religious divorces. In some of those cases, Epstein demanded $60,000 to pay members of his alleged team.
Defense attorneys had argued their clients were, in part, framed by a man who admitted to one of those kidnappings and who sought to reduce the possible life sentence he faces for his crime. They also contended identifications of the younger Epstein by two of the victims were unreliable.
Mendel Epstein is accused of arranging the kidnappings and his son is charged with participating in the beatings. Prosecutors contend Goldstein wrote the official religious divorce decrees and that Stimler served as an official witness to the events.