John Edwards Jury Stuck on ‘Bunny’ Money, No Verdict Yet
(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- The jury in John Edwards' campaign finance trial ended its second day of deliberations Monday requesting to review additional evidence, but not indicating they are any closer to reaching a verdict.
The panel of eight men and four women spent the day Monday focusing discussions on one count of the indictment dealing specifically with money obtained from 101-yeard-old heiress and Edwards supporter, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
Monday marked the second day, since they were charged Friday, that jurors sent a note to Judge Catherine Eagles, requesting a number of trial exhibits related to funds Edwards and his associates received from Mellon in 2007.
The government alleges in count two of a six-count indictment that Edwards and his former aide Andrew Young illegally solicited the money from Mellon as part of the effort to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. Count three of the indictment contains similar allegations, but is focused on checks Mellon wrote in January 2008, shortly before Edwards ended his quest for the nomination.
Among the exhibits the jury requested is a letter Mellon wrote in April 2007 that is sometimes referred to as the "haircut" letter. Mellon wrote the letter to Young, shortly after the press had seized on the news that Edwards had charged a $400 haircut to his campaign.
"I was sitting alone in a grim mood -- furious that the press had attacked Sen. Edwards on the price of a hair cut," Mellon's handwritten note reads. "From now on, all hair cuts, etc., that are a necessary and important part of his campaign, please send the bills to me. It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions."
Within six weeks of that letter Mellon began writing a series of personal checks that would eventually add up to $725,000 over seven months. The jury also requested copies of the first two of those two checks, which were funneled to Andrew Young through an intermediary and eventually deposited in an account in the maiden name of Young's wife, Cheri.
Edwards' defense team has argued that Young was taking advantage of Mellon, bilking her out of the money with the pretense that it was for Edwards. They noted that the vast majority of Mellon's money went to Young and his wife, who used much of it to fund the construction of their $1.6 million home.
After the jury's request on Friday, an Edwards lawyer told a clutch of reporters in the courtroom that the deliberations could take a while. The jury appears, at least at the outset, to be taking a meticulous, count-by-count approach to their discussions.
Edwards is charged with conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. If convicted on all six counts, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Practically speaking, any prison term is likely to be well below the maximum.
In addition to the money sent by Mellon, the jury must also consider the support provided to Hunter by Edwards' campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who funded a cross-country luxury odyssey for Hunter and the Youngs, after Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity of Edwards' child.
And they also must consider the broader question of whether the financial support provided by Mellon and Baron constitutes an illegal contribution under federal election laws.
At the close of the day the jurors informed the judge that they'd prefer to keep to a set schedule for deliberations, starting each day at 9:30 a.m. and calling it quits by about 4 p.m. The Middle District of North Carolina covers 24 counties and several of the jurors have long commutes to court each day.
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