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'Desperate Housewives' jury deadlocked

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 5:37 AM EDT, Fri March 16, 2012
Actress Nicollette Sheridan leaves the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Wednesday.
Actress Nicollette Sheridan leaves the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I'm sensing some frustration and polarization" among jurors, Sheridan's lawyer says
  • The judge tells jurors to return Friday for more deliberations
  • Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon
  • Sheridan claims creator killed off her character in retaliation for allegations he hit her

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Jurors in actress Nicollette Sheridan's wrongful termination lawsuit against "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry told the judge they were "having difficulty reaching a verdict" Wednesday afternoon.

The jury of nine women and three men began deliberations Wednesday on whether Cherry killed off Sheridan's character in retaliation for the actress's complaining that he hit her during a rehearsal for the ABC comedy.

"I'm sensing some frustration and polarization," said Sheridan lawyer Mark Baute, after the judge sent jurors home for the day with orders to try again Friday morning.

"It's very early for a jury to come back and say, 'We're having trouble deliberating,'" Baute said.

Sheridan is asking for $5.7 million in damages from ABC and Cherry, although the actress was paid $4 million in her last year of work and is still earning royalties from her vested interest in the hit series.

Baute said he believed the "majority of jurors are in Nicollette's favor, but it requires nine to get to the finish line." A verdict in the civil case requires the agreement of nine jurors.

Jurors have two questions to answer, Baute told them in his closing arguments Wednesday.

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Did Cherry hit Sheridan on the head on September 24, 2008, or was it a "light tap," as the defense claims? And, did Cherry get ABC's approval to kill Sheridan's character in May 2008, as the defense claims, or was the decision made in December, after a human resources investigator cleared him in the slapping incident?

Baute called Cherry a "really obvious liar" who was covering up the real reason he killed off Edie Britt, the sassy blonde character Sheridan played for the show's first five seasons.

He accused other ABC employees of conspiring to cover up evidence that it was a revenge firing in order to protect a show that has earned over $1 billion in eight seasons.

Cherry and ABC claim they decided Britt would die in season five in May 2008, four months before the incident in which Cherry allegedly struck Sheridan.

Baute told jurors that there were "no notes, no calendar, no documents," supporting that claim, except for a writer assistant's notes that he accused the defense of fabricating and backdating.

Cherry and ABC executives testified they did not write e-mails because they wanted to keep the decision a secret.

"It's not a 'Navy SEAL Team Six, how are we going to kill Osama bin Laden?' decision," Baute told jurors, questioning the need for such secrecy.

Defense lawyer Adam Levin, in his closing, said the plaintiffs were asking jurors to accept a "complicated story of conspiracy," while the reality is much simpler.

"Mr. Cherry wanted to kill Edie Britt for creative reasons," to shock and surprise viewers and boost ratings, he said.

"'Desperate' is claiming that 10 good citizens of California conspired to get their stories straight and then took the stand, looked you in the eyes and lied," Levin said, noting that five of the 10 defense witnesses had "no incentive to lie" since they are no longer associated with ABC or the show.

Former ABC studio chief Mark Pedowitz, who now works for the rival CW network, testified that in May 2008 he approved Britt's killing since the character "had run its creative course," he said.

Former ABC network chief Steve McPherson, who no longer works in the entertainment industry, told jurors that he also approved the decision in May 2008, Levin said.

Levin also pointed to three former show writers who each testified of hearing the plan to kill off Britt in writer meetings in May and June 2008.

One former show writer called as a witness by Sheridan's lawyer testified that she did not hear about the plan until later in the year, after the hitting incident.

On Tuesday, the show's set construction coordinator testified that he received an e-mail that suggested a "conspiracy to cover up" information regarding Sheridan's lawsuit.

"It was my understanding that they were going to delete e-mails from the hard drives," Reinhart said about the e-mail he received in fall 2010, soon after Sheridan filed her lawsuit.

He read the e-mail and immediately deleted it because he believed it was not intended for him, he said.

"I honestly tried to put it out of my mind," he said, until this past weekend as he realized the Los Angeles trial was nearing an end.

The defense later called Jean Zoeller, ABC's chief litigation lawyer, to testify that she sent memos to every employee connected to the case instructing them to save all their electronic documents. Asked if she asked anyone to delete e-mails, she said, "Absolutely not."

The defense won one victory Tuesday when the judge issued a directed verdict dismissing Sheridan's battery claim against Cherry. Sheridan's lawyer downplayed the significance of that decision, saying the damages could have only been $1 and jury deliberations will be simplified without it.

"You hit me, I complained and you fired me for it," Baute said, giving a thumbnail description of Sheridan's case.

The hit during a rehearsal was just "a light tap on the head" intended to demonstrate "a piece of physical humor" Cherry wanted Sheridan to perform, the defense said in opening statements.

Sheridan testified that Cherry hit her because he was frustrated during a discussion over her lines in a scene. "It was a nice wallop to my head," she said.

Five months and 11 episodes later, Cherry informed Sheridan that Britt would die during a show taping the next day, ending her five-year run on "Desperate Housewives."

ABC Entertainment is a defendant in the lawsuit because its executives allegedly failed to properly investigate Sheridan's accusation that Cherry hit her, and then agreed with his decision to fire her.

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