updated 4/17/2008 9:48:24 PM ET 2008-04-18T01:48:24

A federal jury said it was deadlocked in the cocaine trafficking case against a Colombian rebel leader Thursday, raising the prospect of a second mistrial in the politically charged U.S. case.

Ricardo Palmera is already serving a 60-year prison sentence on an unrelated hostage-taking charge, so the outcome means little for his future. But the U.S. is seeking a symbolic drug war victory to reinforce its stance that Latin America's largest rebel group is also a drug cartel.

The Justice Department failed to make that case last year when a jury deadlocked at 7-5 favoring acquittal. Prosecutors opted to bring a second trial, which could cost more than $1 million.

Palmera, who is also known by his nom de guerre, Simon Trinidad, smiled broadly in court Thursday. Prosecutors shook their heads as they read and reread the note saying jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

Judge tells jury to take weekend off
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth told jurors to take the weekend off and resume deliberations Monday.

In 2004, Palmera became the first member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to be extradited to the U.S.

Palmera has no chance of parole on his hostage-taking charge and is likely to die in prison. But the Bush administration has spent billions fighting Colombian rebels and the world's largest cocaine industry, and a conviction on drug charges would be a victory for the U.S. and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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