Jury’s Out

John Edwards Trial Watch: A Damning Twitter Trail

As the jury enters its seventh day of deliberation, key questions remain unanswered. Diane Dimond finds provocative clues in a very public place.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

What, exactly, is taking the John Edwards jury so long? As deliberations reconvene for a seventh day in Greensboro, N.C., court watchers are left wondering if the panel will be able to reach a verdict at all.

That there has been dissent among the eight men and four women tasked with reaching a decision has been evident. The panel appears in court twice each day: once to be officially dismissed for lunch and again at the end of the day. Affable juror No. 2, widely believed to be the foreman, often smiles broadly at Judge Catherine Eagles as he answers her questions. His occupation is listed as “financial adviser.” But Nos. 7 and 11 frequently enter the jury box with their arms defiantly crossed across their chests and sour looks on their faces. No. 10, a retired fire and police department employee, often covers most of his face with a large white handkerchief as if afraid of catching or spreading germs. Female juror No. 9 looks completely exhausted by the five-week trial.

What could be the sticking point? The central question in dispute is why John Edwards accepted outsiders’ money to take care of his pregnant mistress. Was it to conceal his girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, from his wife—or was it to hide her existence from the voters he hoped would elect him president of the United States? If the jury believes it was for the latter reason, then logic says they should find Edwards guilty of at least some of the six counts in the federal indictment that charges him with accepting illegal, over-the-limit campaign contributions.

Of course, as Judge Eagles explained to the jury in her final instructions, “People rarely act with a single purpose in mind,” and the jury need not declare that the funds went solely to hide the baby from Elizabeth or solely to hide Hunter from the voters. If the jury finds the benefactors would have given the money to Edwards anyway—even if there were no election—then he likely walks.

But perhaps the jury is mired in arguments about subjects that simply weren’t adequately explained during trial. Here, a primer on the pivotal issues left unresolved.

What Did Elizabeth Know—and When?

This is such a crucial and unanswered question. The defense always maintained that the money went to hide the affair and pregnancy from the cancer-stricken Mrs. Edwards. However, the jury saw an August 2008 ABC News interview in which Edwards declared that his wife knew all about his “short” 2006 affair and she had forgiven him. Edwards also said that it was “not possible” that he was the father of Hunter’s baby. Everyone now understands those were lies—the affair continued for years, and the baby was Edwards’s daughter. Having heard no testimony about exactly when Mrs. Edwards became fully aware of the situation, it’s difficult to imagine how the jury could decide if the money spent was to keep her in the dark.

The Daily Beast has found that a very public timeline may shed some light: Edwards’s own Twitter feed.

At trial, defense attorney Abbe Lowell read a detailed stipulation to the jury about Rielle Hunter’s menstrual cycles, including the likely date of conception of her and Edwards’s baby, Frances Quinn. Quoting Hunter’s physician, Lowell put the window of conception between May 25 and 28, 2007. So where was John Edwards at the time, and where was his wife?

The relevant section of Edwards’s Twitter page still lives on the Web. (A source close to Edwards, as well as media reports from the time, confirm the page’s authenticity.) Under the banner “Tomorrow Begins Today!” John Edwards posted this Twitter message from the campaign trail:

If Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were together in Iowa at the same time he was creating a baby with another woman, logic follows that the missus had no idea there was an active and ongoing affair occurring right under her nose. Why the defense did not present the Twitter post at trial is unknown.

What Happened to the Money, Anyway?

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Some $725,000 was given by billionaire Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who made no secret of the fact that she wanted John Edwards to win the 2008 presidential election. Edwards’s longtime fundraiser Andrew Young solicited the money to finance a clandestine multistate journey as he and his family escorted the pregnant Hunter to various secret locations to keep her away from the media. But not all the money was spent; Edwards’s finance chairman, the late Fred Baron, stepped in and also began to provide financial support. There were lots of conflicting figures bandied about during trial, and testimony that much of the leftover money went to help build Andrew Young’s $1.6 million home in Chapel Hill, N.C.

But neither the prosecution nor the defense ever specifically asked Young (the prosecution’s key witness) about this. Did Young in fact keep the bulk of the money? If so, what exactly did he spend it on? Did he feel he deserved to keep the money in exchange for falsely claiming paternity of Edwards’s child? Was it payback for uprooting the lives of his wife and three children for 18 months?

This jury could easily be stuck on who the bad guy is in this case—Andrew Young or John Edwards. A few strategically placed questions to Young might have brought clarity to juror’s minds.

Of course, for most avid watchers of the court proceedings, Young is at the center of an even stickier question. Young was the whistleblower on the whole sordid affair, detailing his former boss’s liaisons in the bestselling 2010 book The Politician. The most interesting question never came up in court. If Young was the double-dealing, underhanded “schemer” the defense painted him to be, why did John Edwards hire him in the summer of 1999 and keep him so close for so many years?