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John Edwards trial jurors request more exhibits

They finish a fifth day without reaching a verdict on charges he took illegal campaign contributions to cover up an affair.

May 24, 2012|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards leaves a federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., where a jury is deliberating on charges that he took illegal campaign contributions to cover up an affair.
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards leaves a federal… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jurors in the John Edwards campaign finance trial on Thursday ended a fifth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict, but not before requesting 20 exhibits involving payments from one of two wealthy benefactors at the heart of the case.

The jury reviewed invoices for payments by the late Fred Baron, Edwards' campaign finance chairman, that helped hide Edwards' mistress at luxury hotels and resorts. The only defense exhibit requested was a chart of payments from Baron and Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a billionaire heiress, during Edwards' campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Edwards, 58, is charged with six counts of violating federal campaign laws. He is accused of orchestrating a scheme to solicit $925,000 to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter in order to save his campaign from collapsing in scandal.

The review of the Baron exhibits, after jury requests earlier in the week for Mellon documents, suggests that jurors are slowly plowing through the six federal counts against Edwards. Assuming jurors are considering the counts in the order directed by the trial judge, they would have discussed two counts involving Mellon money before turning to two counts involving Baron payments.

The remaining two counts accuse Edwards of causing his campaign to file false finance reports and conspiring to accept and conceal illegal contributions through "trick, scheme or device.''

Jurors have requested 61 exhibits since they began deliberations Friday. In an attempt to speed up the process, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles offered Thursday to make all trial exhibits available.

The defense says the payments were private gifts intended to hide the affair from Edwards' cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth. Witnesses testified that Elizabeth Edwards grew increasingly suspicious of her husband, monitoring his finances and phone calls.

The jury must decide whether the payments were illegal campaign contributions — and whether Edwards knew they were unlawful and acted "knowingly and willingly" in soliciting and spending the money. He faces up to 30 years in jail and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all charges.

Baron funneled money to Edwards' political aide, Andrew Young, to fly Hunter around the country as National Enquirer reporters pursued her. Baron sent $400,000 to Young to pay for flights on Baron's private jet, stays at a luxury resort in Aspen, Colo., and a $20,000-a-month rental mansion in Santa Barbara.

Among the exhibits requested by jurors Thursday was a handwritten note Baron attached to $1,000 in cash provided to Young. It read: "Old Chinese saying: Use cash, not credit cards."

Young, who testified for the prosecution under a grant of immunity, said Edwards directed the payment scheme. Testimony showed that Young and his wife, Cheri, siphoned off much of the cash from Baron and Mellon to build a $1.6-million mansion and to pay for vacations and shopping sprees.

The defense says Young masterminded the money scheme to hide Hunter.

Also requested by the jurors Thursday was a TV interview Edwards gave to ABC News in August 2008, more than six months after he quit the presidential race. In the interview, Edwards falsely claimed that he was not the father of Hunter's child and that the affair lasted only briefly.

Edwards also denied knowing about the Mellon and Baron payments.

"I have never asked anybody to pay a dime of money," Edwards told ABC. "Never been told that any money has been paid. Nothing has been done at my request."

Prosecutors played the interview at the end of their closing arguments to the jury last week.

Deliberations resume Friday morning.

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