Jury Deliberating on Edwards Evidence
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Day three of jury deliberations jurors in the John Edwards criminal case began Tuesday morning with no verdict in sight. Jurors appear to be following a path set by Judge Catherine Eagles in her instructions. Notes from the jury room have asked for evidence related to the second of six indictments.
In notes passed to the court on Friday and again on Monday, jurors asked to see evidence relating to money given by 101-year-old Rachel "Bunny" Mellon - a wealthy Edwards supporter in Virginia. Prosecutors claim some $725,000 she supplied to former aide Andrew Young and his wife, Cheri, were not legally gifts but illegal and unreported contributions to his presidential campaign.
His defenders insist those gifts - as well as others from Fred Baron in Texas - were to help Edwards hide an affair, and the resulting baby girl, from his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth Edwards.
Four of six felony indictments relate to alleged illegal campaign contributions: counts two and three for Mellon money in 2007 and 2008, counts four and five for Baron money in those two years. The two other charges are conspiracy and concealing a material fact.
"Specifically, the government alleges that Mr. Edwards knowingly and willfully accepted and received contributions in excess of the amount allowed by federal law while he was running for president of the United States," Eagles said. "The government also alleges that he caused the John Edwards for President Committee to file false reports that did not list these contributions. Finally, the government alleges that Mr. Edwards entered into a conspiracy with others to commit these two crimes. There are a total of six charges in the indictment. Mr. Edwards denies all six charges."
Indications appear to show that the jury is first looking at the charges involving Mellon's money and whether it was a personal gift to help him conceal Hunter from his wife, or to help his campaign by hiding her.
Shortly before their Monday recess jurors asked to see evidence that included a note interior designer Bryan Huffman sent Young referring to Mellon.
"As Bunny says, 'For the rescue of America!'" it said.
Mellon had been routing money to Young by sending checks through her friend Huffman as if paying for furniture, allegedly to hide her contributions from her own lawyer, who would not have approved.
The prosecution position is that money from Mellon and Baron to cover up Edwards' affair amounted to a political contribution. Last week, on the first day of deliberation, the jury asked to see a transcript of a voicemail message from Edwards to Young about meeting with Mellon.
"Immediately after lunch, she and I will break out into a private session for a couple of hours," the transcript - shown on video screens during final arguments - says. "That's when we'll do our work, including the work about you, and makin' sure you're, uh, protected and included..."
Another Mellon note the jury requested had to do with a controversy over the campaign paying $400 for a haircut for the candidate. In that note, Mellon asks bills "for all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign" be sent to her through her New York attorney.
"It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions," Mellon wrote in that note.
From those evidence requests, the jury appears to be going step by step over each count one by one following Eagles by starting with the campaign contributions - or personal gifts - whichever they find them to be.
According to Eagles' instructions, in order for the jury to find Edwards guilty of accepting excess campaign contributions, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, three elements:
n First, that Edwards was a candidate for federal office, specifically for president of the United States;
n Second, that while a candidate, Edwards accepted or received, or willfully caused another to accept or receive on his behalf, campaign contributions that totaled $25,000 or more; and
n Third, that Edwards acted knowingly and willfully.
"A contribution is any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office," Eagles told the jury. "The government does not have to prove that the sole or only purpose of the money was to influence the election."
The defense objected to Eagles' instruction to jurors that would let them find a contribution illegal even if its main purpose was not related to the election as long as that was one purpose.
"If you find beyond a reasonable doubt that one of her purposes was to influence an election, then that would be sufficient," her jury instruction said.
Any conviction, on any count, will doubtless be appealed. Even a single felony conviction would strip Edwards of his license to practice law.
Conviction on all counts could bring a 30-year prison sentence, though few court watchers think Edwards would receive the maximum.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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