As Edwards jury deliberates, speculation grows
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (AP) — John Edwards tried to make eye contact with each juror as they filed into the courtroom Wednesday before heading home after a fourth day of deliberations without a verdict in his campaign finance trial.
A former trial lawyer, Edwards is familiar with the old courtroom adage that jurors who return the defendant’s gaze with a quick smile or a nod may be leaning toward acquittal, while those who turn away could be signaling guilt.
While the former Democratic presidential candidate, the media and court observers look for clues to what the jury is thinking, legal experts caution it’s still early in such a complex case to read too much into jurors’ body language, dress and demeanor. Even speculating on why they have asked questions about one particular wealthy donor may be going too far.
Shortly after starting their deliberations Friday, jurors asked for office supplies and a stack of trial exhibits that included copies of handwritten notes from the 101-year-old heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, one of two wealthy political donors who provided the nearly $1 million used to help hide Edwards’ pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
Edwards is charged with six felony counts related to campaign finance violations. If convicted on all counts, Edwards faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison, though legal experts predict a term of less than 5 years would be more likely.
To convict Edwards, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles instructed the jurors they must conclude beyond a reasonable doubt not only that the candidate knew about the secret payments made on his behalf, but he knew the cover up was illegal and that he went ahead anyway. Even legal experts with detailed knowledge of federal campaign finance rules are split on whether Edwards violated the law.
Hampton Dellinger, a Raleigh lawyer who has attended the trial, said the longer the jury goes without reaching a verdict, the more likely they are to deadlock on some or all of the charges.
“The more you think about this case, the more confusing it can get,” Dellinger said. “Our campaign finance laws are very, very complicated.”
The Edwards jury will return for a fifth day of discussions Thursday.
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