Edwards Trial Has Deep Local Roots
The sensational trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards has deep roots in Moore County.
Edwards grew up in Robbins, the small town whose people and values he praised in two presidential campaigns. His mom and dad — Bobbie and Wallace Edwards — still live in the same house on Emma Lane where they watched their son seek the 2004 Democratic Party nomination for president, then join Sen. John Kerry as his vice-presidential running mate.
Legions of press beat a path to their door and his mother’s home cooking.
One of his lawyers walked down the aisle of The Village Chapel at her wedding — the groom an attorney himself who had launched his own firm in Carthage. Allison Van Laningham and her husband, Brad, work in different areas of law. His practice — now The Bradley Group — has expanded from the old Carthaginian on Dowd Street to other cities.
Allison Van Laningham was one of Rielle Hunter’s representatives in Pittsboro court hearings over a purported “sex tape” allegedly showing a personal encounter between Hunter and Edwards. That relationship is at the heart of the trial about to begin with Monday morning final jury selections.
Opening arguments are expected in the afternoon for a trial that Judge Catherine Eagles projected would last about six weeks. These jurors come from all parts of the federal Middle District of North Carolina — as far east as Edwards’ Chapel Hill area home and including metropolitan Durham, as far west as rural sections around Statesboro.
The issue, simply put, is whether money given to help Edwards hide an affair and the child born to him and Hunter was political or personal. Government lawyers will try to convince the jury that he broke federal laws by secretly getting two wealthy supporters to give hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hunter’s expenses.
Hunter, a videographer working for Edwards’ 2008 campaign, bore their daughter, Frances Quinn. Their affair and that birth was kept secret from Elizabeth Edwards as she fought terminal cancer, discovered just as Edwards and Kerry conceded defeat in 2004.
The government contends these donations were illegal and unreported campaign contributions, while Edwards maintains they were meant to keep his dying wife from knowing about the affair and the child. Elizabeth Edwards passed away in 2010 of breast cancer.
Elderly Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a longtime admirer of the young senator, and a wealthy Texas attorney, the late Fred Baron, covered nearly a million dollars] worth of living expenses for Hunter, according to charges made by the prosecution.
It is the government’s position that all that money — more than $900,000 — was really campaign contributions, and by law should have been reported as such. They contend its true purpose was to bolster Edwards’ image as a family man.
Allison Van Laningham and others on the defense team are expected to paint a far different picture and contend it wasn’t politics but instead a desperate husband and father’s hope to hide what he’d done from his wife and old friends trying to help him do that.
While the story has all the glamour of tabloid tragedy, the nuts and bolts of what goes on over the next six weeks or so in court will have to do with the intricacies of campaign finance law and how far federal power can reach.
Edwards’ family has rallied around him, and so have a number of longtime friends. Others, however, have taken the other side.
Andrew Young, once the senator’s aide who accompanied him to Robbins when Edwards came to talk with former workers after a poultry processing plant closed, claimed to be the father of Hunter’s child in 2007.
He later claimed Edwards knew all along that he was the child’s father, but begged him to take public responsibility.
Young followed up with a 2010 tell-all book, “The Politician,” about the 10 years he spent working with Edwards before their break. According to Young’s account in the book, Edwards asked him and his wife, Cheri, to take Hunter and go into hiding with her and her child because of Elizabeth Edwards’ failing health.
Young is on the witness list. So is Hunter. The list includes John and Elizabeth Edwards’ daughter, Cate Edwards, and staffers from his 2008 presidential campaign. Mellon, who at 100 years of age is in frail health, will not be called; but her attorney Alex Forger could testify. So could Baron’s widow, Lisa Blue.
Jennifer Palmieri, who was Edwards’ press secretary, is expected to testify. Reports say she could be called to tell about a furious Elizabeth Edwards confronting Blue and Baron in an Iowa hotel room over their support of Hunter.
Hunter had been seen filming Edwards and his wife Dec. 30, 2006 at a campaign announcement rally just outside Chapel Hill. He later appeared on television to deny fathering Hunter’s child, but said he’d told his wife about the affair in 2006.
No statement has been made by the defense as to whether Edwards himself will take the stand. He faces six charges that — if he were to be convicted on all counts — could take his law license, fine him as much as $1.5 million and send him to federal prison for up to 30 years.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or email@example.com.
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