John Edwards' defense team wrapped up its case on May 16, without putting the former senator on the stand
Photograph by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images.
UPDATE: The jury in John Edwards' campaign finance trial resumed deliberations on Tuesday morning after the long holiday weekend. It's the seventh day of deliberations in the case.
CNN reports that the jurors has now requested every exhibit presented during the trial. The judge offered to hand over all of them last Thursday, after jurors requested another look at a handful of the exhibits.
With the exception of those requests, there has been little to indicate how close the jury may or may not be to returning a verdict. While that hasn't stopped some from speculating on the possibility of a deadlocked jury, court observers say it's too early to leap to any conclusions.
"This is a pretty complex chore," Kieran J. Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney, told the Associated Press. "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."
Wednesday, May 23: The jury that will decide John Edwards' fate entered its fourth day of deliberations Wednesday, with little to indicate that the jurors are any closer to returning a verdict in the disgraced politician's campaign finance trial.
The Los Angeles Times reports that on Wednesday, the jury requested to see two more of the prosecution's exhibits to help them in their deliberations, bringing the total of number of exhibits they have asked for since entering deliberations on Friday to more than a dozen.
The two pieces of evidence requested on the third day were letters concerning Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. She's one of two donors behind what prosecutors claim were illegal campaign contributions used to cover up the former presidential candidate's affair with Rielle Hunter in order to save his campaign.
Friday, May 18: The North Carolina jury that will decide John Edwards' fate called it quits for the weekend on Friday afternoon, meaning the disgraced politician will have to wait until at least Monday to learn the outcome of his campaign finance trial.
The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations Monday at 9:30 a.m. ET in the Greensboro court. While it's difficult to predict how long they will need to reach a decision, many court watchers are prepping for a long wait. A quick verdict "would be surprising considering the complexity of the case," according to NBC News legal analyst Hampton Dellinger.
The criminal charges against Edwards include accepting contributions that exceeded campaign finance limits, causing his campaign to file a false financial disclosure report, and violating the Federal Election Campaign Act. A key portion of campaign finance law requires prosecutors to prove that Edwards willingly violated the rules, a high bar that several court observers have speculated will pose problems for the prosecution.
Because each of the six charges carries a potential five-year prison sentence, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee technically faces the possibility of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if the jury returns guilty verdicts across the board. However, as Politico notes, federal judges usually sentence in accordance with established guidelines that would dictated a much shorter sentence, likely in the range of three to four years in a case like this one.
Prosecutors have accused Edwards of breaking federal campaign laws by orchestrating a scheme that funneled nearly $1 million in campaign cash to his mistress, Rielle Hunter, in order to hide her and their love child from the media in a bid to protect his political ambitions.
The defense, however, contends that even though the Democrat lied publicly about the affair, he knew little about the financial scheme in question and that the money came from wealthy backers who were acting as his friends, and not campaign donors, when they agreed to help hide the politician's infidelity from his cancer-stricken wife.
Wednesday, May 16: And the defense rests.
John Edwards' legal team wrapped up its defense on Wednesday in the former White House hopeful's campaign finance trial. The Democrat's lawyers opted against putting Edwards or mistress Rielle Hunter on the stand, and likewise kept the disgraced politician's daughter, Cate, on the sidelines.
While few observers expected Edwards or Hunter to testify, the decision against having Cate Edwards speak on his behalf was a bit of a surprise. Earlier in the week it appeared as though she would testify to her father's love for her now-deceased mother, something the defense hoped would help convince the jury that Edwards' only goal in hiding his affair was to protect his family, not his political ambitions.
As the Associated Press explains, the witness decisions appeared to be an effort to shift the narrative from the details of the Edwards sex scandal to the legal question of whether the former senator knowingly violated federal campaign finance laws.
Prosecutors say that Edwards conspired to hide his then-pregnant mistress from the public using nearly $1 million in donations from wealthy friends, violating campaign finance rules in the process.
Closing arguments will begin Thursday, with jury deliberations starting Friday, according to CNN.
Tuesday, May 15: John Edwards' legal team is expected to call his eldest daughter to the stand Tuesday to testify in her father's defense.
Cate Edwards, a 30-year-old lawyer, has been one of the disgraced politician's staunchest supporters and has been present in the courtroom nearly every day since the trial began more than three weeks ago. While it is unclear exactly what she will say on the stand, ABC News reports that courtroom observers expect her to speak of her father's love for her now-deceased mother, Elizabeth, a topic that is sure to be uncomfortable for both father and daughter.
Such testimony would speak to what the defense claims was John Edwards' primary reason for using the nearly $1 million in donations from wealthy friends to hide his affair: protecting his family and wife, who was dying from cancer at the time, from public embarrassment. The prosecution maintains he used the unreported cash instead to protect his political ambitions, and violated federal campaign finance law in the process.
Edwards' team kicked off its defense on Monday by calling Lora Haggard, who worked as the Democrat's chief financial officer during his 2008 presidential run. As CNN notes, she supported Edwards' claim that he was not involved in filing the FEC reports at the center of the case.
Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty on six counts of campaign finance violations. You can read previous Slatest updates on the trial here. Elsewhere in Slate, L.V. Anderson pens an "Explainer" on the word “the” in Edwards’ defense strategy, and Richard L. Hasen makes the case that Edwards should not be convicted.