As Edwards jury deliberates, how long is too long?
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (AP) — The jury at the trial of former U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards is set to begin deliberations for a seventh day Tuesday, and speculation is growing that it may be deadlocked.
Edwards faces six felony charges in a case involving nearly $1 million provided by two political donors to help hide the Democrat’s pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
The jury must determine whether Edwards knew about the secret payments, which he has denied, and whether he realized he was violating federal law by allowing them.
That requires the jury to navigate a web of laws so complicated that even campaign finance experts disagree on whether the money used in the cover-up qualify as political contributions, which were then limited to $2,300 per person.
“This is a pretty complex chore,” said Kieran J. Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney who has attended nearly every day of the trial. “There’s a lot to digest and come to an agreement on. One full week of deliberations is nothing to hit the panic button on. But if it goes another week, that indicates the likelihood of a split verdict or hung jury.”
Federal law defines campaign contributions as money given with the intent of influencing the outcome of an election. But neither donor who gave the money testified about their thinking.
Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a 101-year-old heiress, was deemed too frail to travel to court. Those involved in the scheme said she had no idea much of the $725,000 she funneled to an Edwards aide for a “personal expense” was being spent on concealing an extramarital affair.
Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer who served as Edwards’ campaign finance chairman, paid for flights on private jets, luxury hotel rooms and a $20,000 rental mansion in California. He died of bone cancer in late 2008.
Edwards, a former trial lawyer, decided not to take the stand in his own defense. His mistress, Rielle Hunter, was not called to testify.
Steve Friedland, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Elon University School of Law, said those waiting for a resolution should remain patient.
“Jury verdicts are not always like fast food, delivered neatly wrapped in short order,” he said. “Instead, verdicts are sometimes like a fine meal that takes a long time to prepare. That is what is occurring in the Edwards case, and the result may be all the better for it.”
By MICHAEL BIESECKER
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