Local Politics

Edwards juror: Prosecution witness should have been charged

Posted June 7, 2012 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2012 7:08 p.m. EDT

John Edwards makes a brief statement outside the Greensboro federal courthouse on May 31, 2012, after a jury acquitted him on one camapign finance fraud charge and a mistrial was declared on five other charges against him

— One of the jurors in John Edwards criminal trial said Thursday that he believes the government's star witness should have been the one at the defense table.

Otis Cooper said he believes that former Edwards aide Andrew Young orchestrated the scheme to obtain nearly $1 million from two political donors for his own use.

The government accused Edwards, a former U.S. senator and two-time presidential candidate, of using Young to get money from Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron to help keep his pregnant mistress quiet and to hide her from the media during his 2008 run for the White House.

Young, who was given immunity from prosecution for cooperating with investigators, spent almost five days on the witness stand, detailing the alleged schemes. But the defense punched holes in his story by pointing out inconsistencies in his testimony and noting that Young and his wife had spent most of the donors' money on their new home near Chapel Hill and other personal expenses.

"Andrew Young did not come off as a credible witness," said Cooper, a former Winston-Salem police officer and retired Durham fire chief. "I think, really, the prosecution might have had a better chance if Andrew had been marched in there in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. This guy had done a number of things that were illegal and seemed to be able to walk away from the entire thing."

An eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for about 50 hours over nine days before acquitting Edwards a week ago of one charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial on five other charges against Edwards when jurors said they were deadlocked and couldn't reach a verdict.

Cooper said jury discussions did get intense, but in the end, defense witnesses who argued money used to cover up an affair is a personal gift and shouldn't be considered a campaign contribution swayed the majority of jurors.

"The money had really been scrutinized at several different levels before got to court. The (Federal Elections Commission) had looked at it, the IRS had looked at it, everyone who came across as a witness said it was a gift," he said. "So, who are we to say (it wasn't)? We have to take them as the experts that they are.

"Friends give friends gifts," he added.

Other jurors have said they believe Edwards was guilty, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him.

"There were some things said and some things done that would indicate one way, but if you just nailed it down – what did these words really say, and who were they said to – they didn’t quite come up to muster," Cooper said. “I left my gut outside, left it outside and dealt strictly with the (evidence).

He said the government should not waste its time and money retrying Edwards on the five charges.

"The government has higher-priority things that need to be done with tax dollars than really to chase down one person," he said.

"The evidence is not going to get any better, and I doubt the jury is going to get any smarter," he added.