The jury in the trial of John Edwards asked for 10 pieces of evidence during the start of the deliberations process Friday, including letters, checks from Bunny Mellon and voicemails from Edwards himself.
Edwards is charged with six criminal counts including 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. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges.
Jurors will have to weigh whether to believe Edwards, who argued that he didn't knowingly break the law, or his aide, Andrew Young, who said Edwards recruited him to solicit secret donations in excess of the legal limit for campaign contributions, then $2,300.
The bulk of the alleged illegal campaign contributions flowed to Young, including $725,000 in checks from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who is now 101 years old. Young spent some of the money to care for Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter, but financial records introduced at the trial showed the aide siphoned off most of the money to help build his family's $1.6 million dream home near Chapel Hill.
Elon University School of Law professor Steven Friedland says the jury is asking about what he considers the weakest part of the prosecution's case, which may mean they're favoring the prosecution. Friedland, though, says it is difficult to tell by just a few requests.
"It's telling us they're going through each piece of evidence and not going to really look at things overall. They're going to focus on particular pieces that were admitted," Friedland said. "That's a good thing, they’re doing due diligence. We want the jury to take this very seriously -- they are."
Friedland says Young's credibility could have been where the jury started, but they did not. Instead, today's requests for evidence are all related to Mellon.
"The jury could have looked at the tallest tree in the evidence forest, which is Andrew Young's credibility, and started there. They didn't, given their questions to the judge," Friedland pointed out. "It looks like they're asking about Bunny Mellon and the trail of money through her."
Friedland added, "The Fred Baron money trail doesn't seem to be in front of them right now, so they are separating the two, which is what they should do."
Baron was Edwards' national campaign finance chairman.
Like Mellon, Fred Baron provided cash to fly Hunter across the country on private jets and put her up at exclusive hotels and rented homes. Baron also provided his Aspen, Colo., vacation home for the use of Hunter and Andrew Young, the former Edwards aide enlisted to help keep the pregnant mistress away from the media. Young initially claimed paternity of the child.
Baron, a wealthy lawyer from Texas, died in October 2008.
Friedland says since the jury is going through evidence and there is a lot of it, the deliberations could be a lengthy process. He says he does not believe they will have a verdict on Monday.
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