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Jurors in John Edwards trial ask to see exhibits

They request a phone message, a handwritten note and a marker board, suggesting they plan a detailed look at evidence from four weeks of testimony.

May 18, 2012|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
  • Police escort John Edwards and his daughter Cate to federal court. A jury is deliberating on charges he took illegal campaign donations to cover up an affair while he sought the Democratic nomination for president.
Police escort John Edwards and his daughter Cate to federal court. A jury… (Gerry Broome, Associated…)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The jurors who will decide the fate of former presidential candidate John Edwards deliberated for more than four hours Friday before breaking for the weekend in a trial focused on complex campaign finance laws and lurid details of Edwards' extramarital affair.

The jury of eight men and four women must decide whether Edwards knowingly conspired to violate federal election laws as part of a scheme to cover up his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter during his campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

The jurors requested several government exhibits, including a recorded phone message from Edwards and a handwritten note from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. They also asked for markers and a board, suggesting they were settling in for a detailed examination of evidence from four weeks of testimony.

Edwards, 58, has been charged with six counts of violating federal election laws. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

Prosecutors contend that Edwards solicited $925,000 from Mellon and the late Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer and Edwards supporter. The payments, funneled through Edwards' aide Andrew Young, were intended to hide Hunter and their baby and thus save Edwards' campaign from collapsing in scandal, prosecutors say.

Some of the money was paid to fly Hunter — and Young and his family — around the country and to put them up in exclusive hotels and expensive apartments as they fled National Enquirer reporters determined to expose the affair. The rest was siphoned off by Young and his wife to help build a $1.6-million mansion and to finance vacations and shopping sprees.

Edwards' lawyers say the payments were private gifts used to hide the ongoing affair and baby from Edwards' wife, Elizabeth. Edwards cheated on his wife and lied about it, his lawyer told jurors this week, but he did not break any laws because the payments weren't campaign contributions.

Young, who wrote a tell-all book about the affair, testified for the government under a grant of immunity. Prosecutors conceded that Young had lied in the past, but they said his testimony implicating Edwards is supported by phone records and other witnesses.

The defense has portrayed Young as a pathological liar who was out to get Edwards. Defense testimony also showed that the Federal Election Commission did not require the Edwards campaign to report the payments as campaign contributions — even after Edwards was indicted.

The phone message requested by jurors Friday was from Edwards to Young. It was recorded in August 2008, just before Edwards and a friend flew to Virginia to meet with Mellon nearly six months after Edwards ended his 2008 campaign.

"Everything's on go," Edwards tells Young in the message. He goes on to say that he'll meet privately with Mellon, "making sure you're, uh, protected and included."

The message ends with: "Keep, keep your head up, pal. You, you can do this."

Prosecutors say the recording is evidence that Edwards knew about the payments and played an active role. The defense says Edwards is referring to his plans to ask Mellon for money for a poverty center that would employ Young.

The note from Mellon to Young, written in April 2007, refers to embarrassing publicity about a $400 haircut Edwards charged as a campaign expense. Mellon offers to pay for such expenses in the future.

"It is a way to help our friends without government restrictions," Mellon wrote.

Mellon, who is 101, with hearing loss and failing eyesight, was not called to testify. Her intent in providing $725,000 is one question jurors must consider in determining whether the payments were campaign contributions or private gifts.

Jurors also asked Friday for a transcript of the testimony of Mellon's lawyer, who recounted his conversations with Mellon about the payments. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles told the jurors to rely on their memories.

Deliberations resume Monday morning.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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