GREENSBORO, N.C. — As she did last Friday, the federal judge overseeing John Edwards' trial on campaign finance fraud charges closed the courtroom Wednesday afternoon to discuss jury-related issues with prosecutors and defense lawyers.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles and the attorneys went behind closed doors three times Wednesday afternoon to talk about a note a juror had sent to Eagles. It was unclear what was addressed in the note, but the judge said at the end of the day that the jury was in good health and had few scheduling conflicts in the near future.
Court observers have speculated that a juror has expressed concerns about the deliberations, which have stretched 45 hours over eight days since May 18.
On Tuesday, Eagles asked jurors to notify her if anyone thought something had happened that could interfere with the deliberations.
She has admonished the eight-man, four-woman jury twice in recent days not to discuss the case outside the jury room or deliberate if all 12 members aren't present.
"Small group discussions have the potential to cause division," Eagles told them Tuesday. "You act together, and so your discussions and deliberations should be together."
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 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 last 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.
On Wednesday, Eagles dismissed the four alternate jurors, who have had to wait in a separate room from the jury every day since deliberations began. The three women and one man, dubbed by some media as "the giggle gang," gained notoriety last week by wearing color-coordinated clothing every day, from yellow to red to purple.
"Everyone in court is going to miss your cheerful faces. We will regret not knowing the color for tomorrow," Eagles said in allowing the alternates to return to their regular lives.
At least two of the alternates did a brief jig as they were led from the courtroom. But they still might need to be called back, however, if any of the 12 jurors gets sick or needs to bow out of deliberations for some reason.
Such a move would force the jury to scrap all of its deliberations so far and start again from scratch.