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Edwards jury to return for deliberations
Question of the Day
GREENSBORO, N.C. — With the jury at the John Edwards trial set to begin deliberations for a seventh day Tuesday, speculation grows that the 12 people charged with deciding the fate of the 2004 vice-presidential candidate may be deadlocked.
Mr. Edwards faces six felony charges in a case involving nearly $1 million provided by two wealthy political donors to help hide the Democrat’s pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
To determine Mr. Edwards‘ guilt or innocence, the jury must sift through notes from 17 days of testimony and review about 500 trial exhibits, many of them voluminous phone and financial records. They must not only determine whether the candidate knew about the secret payments, which he has denied, but 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 qualifies as political contributions, which were then limited to $2,300 per person.
Although U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles said the issue appeared straightforward to her, the jury instructions took nearly an hour to read and left many on the jury looking dazed.
“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 of the donors who gave the money testified about their thinking on the issue.
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 wealthy Texas lawyer who served as Mr. 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.
Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer, decided not to take the stand in his own defense. His mistress, Rielle Hunter, was not called to testify.
High-profile juries that acquitted a defendant usually did so quickly.
It took less than a day last year for Florida jurors to find Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. That was after 33 days of testimony, 400 pieces of evidence and 90 witnesses. The jury that acquitted football star O.J. Simpson of murder in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman, made their decision in less than four hours.
And while deliberations lasting several days or even weeks often end in deadlocks, there are examples where juries took a long time to return a guilty verdict. The jury at the second trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich took 10 days to convict him on 17 counts of corruption.
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