Local Politics

Picking jury in Edwards case 'acquired art' for prosecutors, defense

Posted April 17, 2012

— A federal judge on Tuesday questioned two dozen potential jurors in the trial of John Edwards while prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to gauge who would best serve their interests in determining the former presidential candidate's guilt or innocence.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts related to secret payments from wealthy campaign donors used to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he sought the White House in 2008.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles disqualified 56 of 185 potential jurors on Monday based on their responses to written questionnaires given to them last week. Most of those dismissed said they had already made up their minds in the case, while others were excused for health or personal reasons or because serving on a six-week trial would be an economic hardship.

Eagles addressed the remaining members of the jury pool in groups of 12 on Tuesday, asking them general questions about the case, such as their feelings about lawyers, politicians and people who have affairs, to determine whether they could be impartial.

Former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said it's "an acquired art" for attorneys in such cases to be able to select jurors sympathetic to their side.

"They observe the way jurors are dressed, the way they react – are they forthcoming to the judge – but they are pretty much observers in this process rather than direct participants," Shanahan said. "These jurors are revealing little pieces about themselves – their background, their history."

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have already spent several days combing through the questionnaires for clues to how each juror might lean in the case, he said, and they add their in-person analysis during Eagles' questioning to that.

John Edwards leaving courthouse Prosecutors, defense size up potential Edwards jurors

"If you're the defense, you're looking for jurors who can be sympathetic, who may say, 'enough is enough,' who wouldn't necessarily walk in lock-step with the government," he said. "If you're the federal prosecutor, you're looking for jurors who can follow instructions, who generally have a background of complying with the law."

Edwards' parents and elder daughter Cate have been accompanying him to the courthouse daily since jury selection started last week. Shanahan said the family support "sends a subliminal message" favoring the defense to prospective jurors.

"Everything that goes on in this courtroom is meant to influence or persuade in some manner," he said.

Eagles determined 17 of the 24 jurors questioned Tuesday were qualified for the jury. The attorneys on both sides will pick the 12 jurors and four alternates next Monday before testimony begins in the trial.

Edwards' national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an heiress and socialite who is now 101 years old, gave nearly $1 million combined for Hunter's medical care and to pay for flights and accommodations for her during the campaign. Both had already given Edwards' campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Edwards maintains the money for Hunter was personal gifts and not contributions to his campaign.

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  • Wendellcatlover Apr 19, 2012

    The fact that his friends and family are there in the courtroom isn't sending me any subliminal message...the only message I get when I see this man is that he is a cheater who thinks he's above the law. Now he needs to pay the piper!!!

  • North Carolina Home Apr 18, 2012

    This is truly a legal conundrum as a defendant is supposed to be found guilty or innocent by a 12 member jury of his/her peers.

    Johnny Reid Edwards does not have even one single peer in the state of North Carolina.

    Thank you God for that.

  • wildpig777 Apr 18, 2012

    IF YER LOOKIN FOR TRUTH HONESTY and justice and right and wrong in the legal arena -- you are a misguided person in serious need of a real world wake up...

  • SmokeWagon Apr 18, 2012

    ......"attorneys in such cases to be able to select jurors sympathetic to their side....."

    Sure does....cause being a baby daddy on illegal money is a federal offense...!!! Boy you liberal "enlightened" one sure know how to pick your "leaders"...!!!!!

  • dlnorri Apr 17, 2012

    remember: Truth, Justice, Right, and Wrong long ago left our Bar association, then it left our law schools, and even left our courts. What is left is the art of Jury Manipulatio to win-at-all-costs....

  • ladyblue Apr 17, 2012

    I know this man is not up front and honest, as so many of our leaders have become, but IMO unless her checks or paper trail SHOWS her donations were marked as campaign funds, and/or she got tax credits for these monies as donations, i don't know how they will prove it wasn't money she offered to him to hide the scandal and keep him in the running of office at the time.I'm sure he promised her some kind of favor or pork fund on a project she likes. (it's told lots of politicians in office do that she has interest in.