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On its ninth day of deliberations Thursday, the jury at the campaign finance trial of Sen. John Edwards reached a milestone that raised hopes verdicts may be near: the jurors asked to keep deliberating as they eat lunch.

“The jury has indicated they want to work through lunch today,” U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles said just before jurors were led into the courtroom at about 12:30 P.M. “They still want a short sunshine break,” Eagles added.

The development seemed to signal that the eight men and four women on the jury are trying to bear down and finish their work, perhaps to avoid their deliberations spilling into next week.

The jurors looked a bit more relaxed Thursday, when compared with their downcast appearance since May 18, when they began discussing verdicts in the case. On Thursday, one man who hasn’t been seen smiling previously, did so.

Edwards is facing six felony charges stemming from nearly $1 million in payments made to hide his pregnant mistress during the 2008 presidential race.

The protracted deliberations have fueled speculation that the jury is at loggerheads over some or all of the six felony charges facing the two-time presidential candidate, who represented North Carolina for six years in the Senate and was the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2004.

Up to this point, some courtwatchers believed that the jury could be simply methodically plowing through the evidence from the almost four-week long evidence phase of the trial. However, that explanation has seemed less plausible as the deliberations stretch on.

Eagles held two secret court sessions on Wednesday to discuss what she described publicly only as “a note from a regular juror.” It’s unknown whether that signals a divide on the jury, but Eagles had instructed the jurors earlier that the foreperson should do all the communicating with the judge. However, she did encourage any juror with concerns about personal scheduling conflicts to notify her via note.

While the length of the deliberations is wearing on the press corps, lawyers and perhaps even the judge, the duration is far from anything that would be unprecedented even in similar kinds of cases.

In 2010, a federal jury in the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges deliberated for 14 days. A mistrial was declared on 23 of the 24 charges in the case, with the jury returning a guilty verdict on a single false statement charge.

Prosecutors retried Blagojevich last year and a jury convicted him on a slimmed down-list of 17 charges after 10 days of deliberations. The Justice Department has given no official indication of whether it would try Edwards again if the current jury can’t reach a verdict, but experts say a retrial is less likely than in Blagojevich’s case, which involved multiple bribery-related allegations.

Edwards and his attorneys, who have almost always been in the building during the first eight days of deliberations, arrived around noon Thursday. Edwards showed up around the same time on Wednesday.