Edwards will see weekend pass before learning his fate
Posted May 18, 2012
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jury deliberations into whether two-time presidential candidate John Edwards broke federal campaign laws by using political donors' money to cover up his affair will continue Monday morning.
The eight men and four women on the jury deliberated for less than five hours Friday before breaking for the weekend. They will resume their work Monday at 9:30 a.m.
Edwards is charged with one count each of conspiracy and filing false campaign finance reports and four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all six charges.
It was clear Friday afternoon that the jury was struggling over the two charges against Edwards related to Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. After less than three hours of deliberations, some jurors already looked irritated as they returned to the courtroom to ask to see several exhibits introduced during the four-week trial.
They wanted to review notes written by Mellon to Edwards and his one-time aide Andrew Young, some of the checks she sent to Young through a friend and bank deposit slips associated with the checks. They also asked for a transcript of the testimony of Mellon's lawyer, Alex Forger, but U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles denied the request, telling them to rely on their own memories of what Forger said.
Forger testified to discovering Mellon's back-channel payments to Young in the summer of 2008 and questioning Edwards about them. He also said that Wade Smith, Edwards' former attorney, told him later that the candidate knew the money was for his benefit, but Smith denied ever saying that.
Eagles jokingly told the jurors that if they were still struggling over Forger's testimony by next Tuesday or Wednesday, she might reconsider and let them have a transcript of what he said.
The deliberations follow three weeks of testimony in which prosecutors laid out a sordid tale of sex, money and politics to convince jurors that Edwards recruited Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron to funnel money to Young to pay for his pregnant mistress' personal expenses and medical care and to keep her away from the media in the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign.
The affair with former campaign staffer Rielle Hunter had been going on since early 2006, but Edwards ignored aides' advice to end it, even after his cancer-stricken wife learned of the affair and ordered him to fire Hunter, according to testimony. Hiding the affair became more difficult after Hunter became pregnant in the summer of 2007 and as media began to speculate that Edwards was fooling around.
"It was one thing to hide an affair. It was something altogether different to hide a pregnancy and a child," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said Thursday in his closing argument.
Prosecutors alleged that the cover-up continued even after Edwards dropped out of the race in January 2008 because he was maneuvering for a top post in the eventual administration of President Barack Obama.
Edwards finally admitted to the affair publicly in August 2008, but he continued to deny he was the father of Hunter's child until early 2010.
The defense countered by focusing on campaign finance law during its two-plus days of testimony earlier this week.
Defense attorney Abbe Lowell argued that the payments from Mellon and Baron weren't political contributions but were personal gifts to help Edwards hide the affair from his wife. Even if they were campaign contributions, Lowell said, Edwards was unaware of some payments and believed the others were legal, based on the advice of campaign finance experts.
Edwards, who has been accompanied to the federal courthouse in Greensboro most days by his parents and elder daughter, didn't testify in his defense.
Lowell blamed Young for the scheme, saying he tried to milk Mellon for money to live a lavish lifestyle and then got Baron to help pay off the construction costs of a home he was building near Chapel Hill. Young admitted that he and his wife spent much of the money earmarked for Hunter on themselves.
"The Youngs deny, deceive and manipulate for money and to live a lifestyle they didn't earn," Lowell said in his closing argument, noting that they "blew through" $1 million in little more than a year.
Lowell also noted Young's repeated inconsistencies in his tell-all book about Edwards' affair and failed campaign and interviews, as well as his five days on the witness stand.
"He just lied over and over again, and it didn't matter if it was big or small," he said. "There's nothing he won't lie about – nothing."
David Harbach, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney prosecuting the case, said Edwards picked Young for the scheme precisely because he had a tarnished reputation.
"This is the perfect fall guy," Harbach said of Young in his closing rebuttal to Lowell's argument. "He's not that smart. The people on the campaign don't like him, and most important, nobody's going to take this guy's word."