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Defense rests case in John Edwards trial, without Rielle Hunter

May 16, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • John Edwards arrives at a federal courthouse for his trial on charges of campaign corruption in Greensboro, N.C.
John Edwards arrives at a federal courthouse for his trial on charges of… (Chuck Burton / Associated…)

The defense in ex-Sen. John Edwards’ campaign finance trial rested its case Wednesday without the former presidential candidate or his former mistress taking the stand.

Edwards’ attorneys ended their defense after just three days — in contrast to the nearly three weeks that federal prosecutors spent, often through salacious testimony, attempting to show Edwards accepted more than $900,000 in illegal campaign contributions during his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to hide his extramarital affair.

Edwards’ lawyers are trying to convince a jury in a Greensboro, N.C., federal court that the payments from two wealthy benefactors were not political donations but gifts from friends to hide the affair and the child he fathered with mistress Rielle Hunter from his wife, Elizabeth, who was dying of cancer.

The judge told jurors that no more witnesses would be called, according to the Associated Press, which also said that closing arguments are likely to begin Thursday.

“The relative brevity of the defense case could be intended to send a message to the jury that the defense believes its case is strong,’’ Michael Rich, an Elon University School of Law professor who has attended the trial, told The Times. “Indeed by not engaging on a lot of the lurid details presented by the prosecution, the defense is suggesting that they don't really matter.”

Hampton Dellinger, a Chapel Hill, N.C., attorney who also has been attending the trial, said in an telephone interview that the defense decided to play it safe.

“The question is are they playing it too safe?’’ Dellinger added.

“Edwards is really pinning his hopes on the lack of direct evidence that he thought that his support for Rielle Hunter was a crime,’’ Dellinger said. “The problem for Edwards is that the government is going to argue that the very nature of the convoluted money trail is evidence that Edwards knew this was improper.’’

Edwards’ lawyers have sought to discredit former Edwards aide Andrew Young, the chief witness against the former senator. A former FBI agent hired by Edwards lawyers to investigate money spent by Young testified this week that Young and his wife spent much of the money intended for Hunter on themselves.

An Edwards confidant also testified earlier that one of Edwards' benefactors sent money to Hunter nearly six months after Edwards quit the presidential race. Defense attorneys said this testimony supports their arguments that the payments should not be considered campaign contributions.

The decision not to put Edwards on the stand suggests that the defense was worried that cross-examination would be “very ugly and hurt his chances with the jury or confident enough about their chances with the jury that they don't need to run the risk of cross-examination,” Rich said.

He added that Hunter was “enough of a wild card who couldn't be pinned down as to how she'd testify that both sides decided she wasn't worth the risk.”

While Edwards was a successful trial lawyer with a reputation for charming juries, prosecutors were likely to cross-examine him about his lies about the affair and fathering a child with Hunter.

Edwards’ defense lawyers also did not call Edwards’ daughter, Cate, who has sat behind him during the trial.

The 58-year-old former senator is charged with six counts of violating federal campaign finance laws. He faces 30 years in jail and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all charges.

richard.simon@latimes.com

Original source: Defense rests its case in John Edwards trial, without Rielle Hunter

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