John Edwards

05.16.12

John Edwards’ Defense Rests After Just Over Two Days of Underwhelming Testimony

Jaws collectively dropped at John Edwards’s trial on Wednesday as the defense made the shocking decision to rest their case. Diane Dimond on why his attorneys decided just over two days of underwhelming testimony would be enough to get their client off.

"Your honor, the defense rests."

And with those words, John Edwards's lead attorney ended the defense’s case of the former senator and two-time presidential hopeful against a six count federal indictment of campaign-finance violations.

Abbe Lowell and his team called just seven witnesses to the stand—and, in a stunning development, there was no testimony from Edwards' 30 year old daughter, Cate. There were some other major surprises on Wednesday: the defense did not call Edwards’ mistress to the stand, nor Edwards himself, the man made famous by smooth-talking juries. In fact, the defense case seemed to sputter to an inauspicious end with the rather dry testimony from a forensic financial analyst.

Former FBI agent James Walsh, who now runs his own private detective and analytical firm, was the last to testify on Wednesday, the 18th day of trial.  He was cross-examined about his conclusions regarding the prosecution's key witness, Andrew Young, and the more than one million dollars that came into the Young's bank accounts between June 2007 and May 2008, when the Young family and the pregnant Hunter were in hiding from the media.  During direct examination on Tuesday, Walsh often referred to the Young's financial affairs during this time as being "in the red"—despite the $1,070,000 allegedly funneled through their bank account by Edwards's loyal (and very wealthy) supporters, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Texas billionaire Fred Baron. Walsh concluded that at least half of that money went to help build the Youngs’ $1.6 million estate in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Diane Dimond on team Edwards's shocking decision to rest their case.

On this last day of testimony, prosecutor David Harbach walked Walsh through a torturous explanation of how he came to believe the Youngs were "in the red"  so often and ultimately Walsh admitted that at no time were the Youngs’ accounts overdrawn.  The jury seemed to pay rapt attention, particularly the retired accountant in seat number 8 and the corporate vice-president in juror seat number 12.

Harbach also asked for clarification on the 137,000 phone calls Walsh had entered into his database and submitted for forensic scrutiny. After a sometimes -complicated discussion of which Edwards friends or staffers belonged to which telephone number, Walsh admitted that since Edwards often used other people's cell phones to make telephone calls there was no way to trace his communications—especially the calls he may have made to Bunny Mellon.

The defense team insists Edwards had no idea that his close aide, Andrew Young, had been getting regular checks from Mellon—$725,000 in all—money that was then used to finance the new lifestyle of the mistress and later her and Edwards’s daughter.

The prosecution also got the forensic analyst to admit that he had failed to factor in at least $83,000 that Young had spent directly on taking care of Rielle Hunter. The $83,000 included a $26,000 BMW, $9,000 to Hunter's spiritual advisor and $38,000 in monthly allowance checks.

There were rumors that the defense would re-call Andrew Young to the stand, but those did not pan out. There was an attempt by the prosecution to call one rebuttal witness—Kathleen Guith, a deputy assistant counsel from the Federal Elections Commission—but when the judge refused to limit cross examination of that witness, Harbach announced Guith would not be called after all.

The government’s case stretched over three weeks and included 21 witnesses, and the defense case wrapped up after just over two days of testimony—causing nearly everyone in the courtroom to leave slack-jawed.

While it is up to the prosecution to prove its case—and there is no burden on the defense whatsoever—it was not the kind of defense anyone expected of a man who had aspired to the highest office in the land.