Not even the upcoming Memorial Day holiday has enticed the jury in the John Edwards case to wrap up its deliberations.
For the fifth day—and after more than 25 hours of backroom discussion—the jury continues to keep a courtroom full of reporters, the defendant and his family waiting for a resolution to this month-long case.
If body language is any indication, the deliberations could go on several days longer. Courtroom observers get to eyeball the jury only twice a day—once as they are dismissed for lunch and then again when they are released at 4:30 p.m. What they’ve seen is a marked decline in mood. For several days, juror number seven, a woman whose occupation is listed as “human resources,” has entered the room ahead of the others, arms crossed over her chest and a defiant look on her face. Juror number eleven, a mechanic sitting in the back row, adopts a similar posture. No longer does anyone call out “Good afternoon!” in sing-song unison to the judge’s greeting.
And it is striking that none of the jurors glance over at John Edwards—not even when they file directly in front of the defendant’s table to go to lunch with the four alternate jurors. During their mutual lunch they have been instructed by Judge Catherine Eagles not to discuss the case in front of the alternates. It was interesting to note, however, that on Thursday each of the alternates wore bright yellow shirts, causing bored reporters to wonder aloud if that had been a coordinated effort.
Waiting reporters got their first real clue that this might be a protracted deliberation yesterday when they spied a large stash of canned sodas and Costco-sized bags of potato chips and cheese puffs waiting outside the jury room door. It was hard to miss the stash as the jury room is located just past the magnetometers through which everyone must pass. It was far more snacks than what could possibly be consumed in a single day.
Early in the deliberations, the jury sent out multiple written requests to see trial exhibits that pertained to Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, including a handwritten note in which she discussed how to pay some of candidate Edwards’s bills “without government restrictions” during the 2007-08 presidential race. That note may be seen by the jury as a sort of smoking gun to prove the prosecutor’s contention that John Edwards accepted illegal campaign contributions. Mellon ultimately wrote checks totaling $725,000, money that was used to help hide and support Rielle Hunter, Edwards’s pregnant mistress.
The jury also asked for voicemail messages left by Edwards to his former top aide Andrew Young in which he discussed his upcoming meeting with Mrs. Mellon to establish a $50 million foundation to fight poverty. During that message Edwards told Young not to worry, that he would be “included and protected” with a foundation job once Mellon agreed to fund it. Young appeared as the prosecution’s key witness.
The six-count indictment against John Edwards includes two counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions from Bunny Mellon in 2007 and again in 2008. There are two similar allegations in counts four and five that name the late Texas billionaire Fred Baron as the source of illegal money. (Baron served as Edwards’s campaign finance chairman.) The remaining counts include conspiracy and aiding and abetting a false campaign-finance report to be filed with the Federal Election Commission.
On day five of deliberations the jury asked for another long list of exhibits to study—twenty in all. Most had to do with items Fred Baron paid for as Andrew Young, his family, and Rielle Hunter remained in hiding in Florida, Colorado, and California. The exhibits included bills for chartered air flights, payments to resort hotels, and a handwritten note from Baron to Young that arrived at a hotel in a FedEx envelope containing a thousand dollars in cash. The note read: “A—Old Chinese saying: use cash not credit cards!”
Another jury request was for defense exhibit #1232. It was a chart entitled “Combined Deposits to Young Accounts Originating from Rachel Mellon and Fred Baron.” The total was $1,070,000—the bulk of which Young admitted went to pay for construction of his $1.6 million home in Chapel Hill, N.C. Members of the jury may be pointing to that as proof of the defense team’s claim that it was Andrew Young who schemed to raise money from two of the candidate’s richest supporters and lined his own pockets without Edwards’s knowledge.
No longer does anyone sing out “Good afternoon!” in sing-song unison to the judge’s greeting.
But then again, the jury also asked for exhibit number #328—a copy of the ABC News interview Edwards granted in August 2008. During that 20-minute Nightline presentation, Edwards lied about the duration of his affair with Hunter, denied paternity of their child, and completely denied knowing that Fred Baron was supporting his mistress as had been reported. John Edwards, an experienced trial attorney himself, had to know that request did not bode well for his defense.
In granting the jury’s request for this latest batch of exhibits Judge Eagles asked the group if they would like to have all the exhibits brought to the jury room so they wouldn’t be slowed up writing request notes. Several of the jurors vigorously nodded and the judge instructed court personnel to take everything to the jury room. Henceforth, the media will have no clue as to what the jury might be focusing upon.
The trial of John Edwards begins today and you may be surprised who's coming to his defense. John Avlon reports in today's Campaign Chronicles.
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