Edwards jury awash in exhibits from month-long trial
Posted May 24, 2012 9:51 a.m. EDT
Updated May 24, 2012 5:57 p.m. EDT
GREENSBORO, N.C. — As jurors in the John Edwards campaign corruption trial deliberated for a fifth day Thursday, the judge and attorneys agreed to give them all of the exhibits put into evidence during the nearly four weeks of testimony.
The jury asked for 20 exhibits Thursday, including invoices for charter jets and resort hotel bills paid by Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron, who was finance chairman for Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign, as the candidate’s pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, hopscotched across the country to evade the media.
But when U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles asked if they wanted everything, six to eight jurors nodded that having every exhibit would be helpful.
"Sounds like a good idea," the jury foreman told Eagles.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys then agreed to the move, releasing a flood of more than 450 documents, photos, videos and audio recordings for jurors to review.
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 Baron to help hide Hunter 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.
"It looks like a lot of good, solid evidence, but the question is, what does it mean?" said Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor who attended most of the trial. "It goes back the question we have talked about every day: Are these expenses that are really related to the campaign?"
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.
"The happy news for those of us here on the outside is that they seem to have taken their attention from the Bunny Mellon money and on to Fred Baron, and like they did with the 'Bunny money' documents, they now asked for all the documents associated with Fred Baron," Shanahan said.
Also among the exhibits requested Thursday were a breakdown prepared by a defense expert of money that Mellon and Baron had provided to the Youngs and a video of a national television interview Edwards gave in August 2008 in which he admitted having an affair but denied being the baby's father or knowing anything about money paid to Hunter.
Still, Shanahan said, sorting through the hundreds of exhibits could slow the deliberations, which had reached 28 hours by the end of Thursday.
"It's a complex matter, and they have obviously decided that they're going to do it their way and they're going to do it on their timetable," he said.
"They're moving forward because, if they had stalled out, they would have been out telling the judge that they had stalled," he said. "Let's presume that they are crawling in the direction of a verdict."
If the jury doesn't reach verdicts on the six counts by Friday afternoon, members will get a three-day break for Memorial Day weekend before resuming their work next Tuesday.
"One scenario is, now they understand the rhythm and they could move very quickly, and they could conclude by Friday," Shanahan said. "If they take a painstaking approach and are not taking votes once they look at all the evidence, we could be here well into next week."
Case is complex
While the former presidential candidate, the media and court observers look for clues to what the jury is thinking, legal experts said it's early in such a complex case to read too much into jurors' body language, dress and demeanor.
"You can always try to come up with these inferences," said Steve Friedland, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Elon University School of Law. "People want signs, but this isn't picking a pope. They won't send up smoke signals."
To convict Edwards, Eagles instructed the jurors they must conclude beyond a reasonable doubt not only that the candidate knew about the secret payments made on his behalf but that he knew the cover up was illegal and went ahead anyway. Even legal experts with detailed knowledge of federal campaign finance rules are split on whether Edwards violated the law.
Hampton Dellinger, a Raleigh lawyer who has attended the trial, said the longer the jury goes without reaching a verdict, the more likely they are to deadlock on some or all of the charges.
"The more you think about this case, the more confusing it can get," Dellinger said. "Our campaign finance laws are very, very complicated."
Friedland cautioned that even a week of deliberation is not uncalled for in such a lengthy and complex case.
"What they're doing is their due diligence," the law professor said. "This shows the system is working and there is no rush to judgment. But if it stretches longer than a week that is a sign there is real disagreement."
Waiting leads to speculation
During the nearly four weeks of testimony, the federal courtroom in downtown Greensboro was packed with local retirees and other spectators wanting to catch a glimpse of the fallen political star.
The crowd has since thinned. Most of those left are the dozens of news reporters waiting on the jury's decision. Outside the courthouse front doors, a tent city is erected each morning by the photographers and television cameramen who capture the daily ritual of Edwards, his parents and his eldest daughter arriving and leaving each day.
In between, members of the news media lounge in camping chairs, check email and speculate.
The fact the jury foreman was wearing blue jeans Wednesday was interpreted to mean a decision was still at least a day away. People dress up more when they think they might be photographed, it was suggested.
Reporters also have speculated whether Edwards has adopted a lucky tie, noting that he had worn the same light green neckwear for several days in a row.
"I'm not saying," Edwards responded with a smile when someone asked whether he thought his tie was lucky.