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Jurors in the now infamous prosecution of John Edwards began deliberations on Friday. The government alleges that Edwards used large donations to his 2008 presidential campaign from two wealthy supporters, Fred Baron and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, to cover up his relationship with Rielle Hunter. He is charged with conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting contributions that exceeded campaign finance limits, and causing his campaign to file a false financial disclosure report. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines.
The trial has become well known less for its focus on campaign finance law, however, than for its inclusion of salacious details of the former presidential candidate’s affair with the woman he would make his campaign videographer. While one might expect the prosecution to introduce evidence showing the money trail, it has instead focused more on the testimony of former aide Andrew Young and his wife, Cheri, who were participants in the coverup of not only the affair but also the resulting pregnancy. The prosecution also brought in another former aide, Christina Reynolds, to testify about the impact of the affair on Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2010 battling cancer. The trial’s coverage of the affair and ensuing coverup have been the source of countless news stories, everything from local news, to national news, to tabloids. They often describe the change in Edwards’ demeanor from previously loving being in the limelight to now looking forlorn and despondent in front of the cameras. Others talk about how his eldest daughter, Cate Edwards Upham, has remained steadfastly by his side, despite leaving the courtroom in tears during testimony regarding her mother. This entertainment news cycle has now come full circle: the whole story came to light in a 2007 National Enquirer exposé and the prosecution closed its case in chief by showing Edwards’ 2008 interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither Edwards nor Hunter testified.
One may wonder whether the prosecution should have introduced such detailed evidence of the torrid affair rather than keeping the trial more narrowly focused on the disputed financial aspects of the alleged coverup. Edwards no longer denies that he had the affair with Hunter or that he is the father of Frances Quinn, their love child. Moreover, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled to exclude evidence favorable to the defense indicating that the Federal Election Commission had already determined that the money in question from two wealthy supporters did not constitute reportable campaign contributions. Either way, it is now in the jury’s hands to sort through all of the evidence presented and to determine whether Edwards will be found guilty.
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