John Edwards waits as jury continues deliberations
GREENSBORO, N.C. — A federal jury in the political corruption trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards deliberated for a second day Monday without reaching a verdict, as Edwards quietly awaited his fate inside a federal courthouse.
The jury of eight men and four women requested seven prosecution exhibits. Among them were emails in 2006 and 2007 that discussed $725,000 provided to Edwards by wealthy heiress and supporter Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, now 101, during Edwards’ campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Prosecutors say the Mellon payments, along with $200,000 from Edwards’ campaign finance chairman, were illegal campaign contributions intended to cover up Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter and save his campaign from collapsing in scandal.
Edwards’ lawyers say the payments from Mellon and the late Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer, were private gifts intended to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth. Witnesses in the four-week trial testified that Elizabeth Edwards had become increasingly suspicious of her husband, monitoring his phone calls and bank transactions.
Edwards listened intently Monday as U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles discussed jurors’ request for a typed transcription of a hand-scrawled note written by Mellon in April 2007. It was the second time the jury had requested information about the note, introduced during the prosecution’s case.
The note, in Mellon’s pinched handwriting, expresses the heiress’ pique over embarrassing media reports about a $400 haircut Edwards had charged as a campaign expense. Mellon asked that future bills for “haircuts, etc., that are a necessary and important part of his campaign” be sent to her.
“It is a way to help our friends without government restrictions,” Mellon wrote in the note, addressed to an Edwards campaign aide.
Eagles, saying no transcription of the note exists, instructed jurors to try to read Mellon’s handwriting for themselves.
The jurors’ attention to the note suggests that they may still be deliberating the first two of six felony counts against Edwards, also a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee. Those two counts allege that Edwards “knowingly and willfully” accepted campaign contributions from Mellon in 2007 and 2008 in excess of the limit allowed under federal election law.
The next two counts, in the order listed during the judge’s instructions, involve the same charges regarding payments from Baron during the same two years.
The final two counts allege that Edwards took part in a scheme for his campaign to submit false finance reports to the Federal Election Commission — and that he conspired to accept illegal campaign contributions and to conceal them from the FEC.
Edwards, 58, could face up to 30 years in jail and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all charges.
The trial’s 17 days of testimony delved into desperate and convoluted attempts to hide Edwards’ affair with Hunter, whom the former senator had hired as a campaign videographer. After Hunter gave birth to Edwards’ daughter, the payments were used to help hide the baby too, as mother and child were flown across the country to escape tabloid reporters.
But for all the sordid details of the affair and cover-up, the verdict hinges on interpretations of complex federal election laws.
In her instructions to the jury Friday, the judge said the prosecution didn’t have to prove that the sole purpose of the payments was to influence the election — only that there was a “real purpose or an intended purpose” to do so.
“People rarely act with a single purpose in mind,” Eagles said.
However, Eagles told the jurors, “If the donor would have made the gift or payment notwithstanding the election, it does not become a contribution merely because the gift or payment might have some impact on the election.”
Deliberations resume Tuesday.
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