Week passes with no verdict in Edwards case
Posted May 25, 2012
Updated May 28, 2012
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jurors in the John Edwards campaign corruption trial broke for a three-day holiday weekend Friday afternoon with no sign of an imminent verdict in the case.
The eight-man, four-woman jury has deliberated for 33 hours over the past six weekdays.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles closed the courtroom to the public Friday afternoon shortly before dismissing the jury for the day to discuss an undisclosed jury issue with prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The judge then admonished all 12 jurors and the four alternates, reminding them not to discuss the case outside of the jury room.
"All discussions of the case must occur only in the jury room and only when all 12 of you are present," Eagles said, adding that she would take up the issue when jurors return on Tuesday morning.
It was unclear whether the issue involved inappropriate discussions of the case, but legal experts said the judge handled the situation correctly by issuing a stern warning.
"You're empaneled with a very solemn responsibility – a man's liberty is at stake. You know by the packed courtroom this is an important issue," said Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor who has attended most of the trial.
If the issue requires replacing one of the jurors with an alternate, Shanahan said that would mean a longer wait for a verdict.
"When that alternate goes in there, the jurors will be told to forget the last week of deliberations," he said. "You cannot consider it. They'll take away the pad and the notes they made, and they'll be told begin the deliberations anew."
The government has accused Edwards, a former U.S. senator and two-time Democratic presidential candidate, of masterminding a scheme to use nearly $1 million in secret payments from Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron to help hide Edwards' pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
Defense attorneys argued Edwards had little direct knowledge of the cover-up, which they say was directed by Baron and Edwards' one-time aide Andrew Young.
In their first four days of deliberations, jurors had asked to review more than 20 exhibits, but all were related to payments that Mellon had routed through a Charlotte interior decorator to Young and his wife. They appeared to shift their attention to Baron for the first time Thursday, asking for another 20 exhibits related to his payments.
Eagles then offered to send all 450-plus exhibits introduced during the nearly four weeks of testimony back to the jury room, and it's been unclear since then whether that has helped speed deliberations or simply bogged jurors down.
The four alternate jurors have been the talk of the courtroom since Thursday, when they all came dressed in yellow. On Friday, they all wore red, as did two of the regular jurors.
Observers said the coordinated outfits might just be their way of blowing off steam – the alternates must remain in a separate room, where they cannot discuss the case, but all 16 do eat lunch together. Eagles even smiled when she saw the alternates in their matching outfits Friday.