Judge In Edwards' Case Sends Jury Back To Deliberate

The jury has reached a verdict on one charge in the John Edwards corruption case. Melissa Block talks to Russell Lewis.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. For a moment this afternoon, it seemed there was an outcome in the trial of John Edwards in North Carolina; more precisely, a unanimous verdict on one count, and a hung jury on five others. But the judge has told the jury to get back to work.

The former Democratic senator, and vice presidential nominee, is accused of taking illegal campaign contributions when he was running for president. He's accused of using that money to cover up his extramarital affair with his pregnant mistress.

NPR's Russell Lewis joins us now from the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. And Russell, tell us what happened with the jury. They came out; they said they had a verdict. What happened?

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Yeah, it was just after lunch. They said they had reached a verdict and so the media, the attorneys, frantically rushed back into court. Everybody sort of sat down and basically, the judge says, what have you been able to determine so far? They said that they had reached decisions on the six counts. And she said, is it a unanimous decision? And they said, no. They said they'd only been able to reach a unanimous decision on just one count.

And she said, is it a unanimous decision? And they said, no. They said they'd only been able to reach a unanimous decision on just one count. And that's where it stood. So just one unanimous decision at this point.

BLOCK: And this is in the ninth day, I think, of deliberations. What was that single count on which they were able to reach a conclusion?

LEWIS: Yeah, this is the ninth day. It was count three. It's seen as the weakest of the counts against John Edwards. This is the money that wealthy heiress Bunny Melon, who is 101 years old, gave to John Edwards. She's one of the two benefactors who gave almost a million dollars to John Edwards. And as I said, you know, it has been seen as the weakest of the counts against him.

And the judge said OK, so you've reached this decision; don't tell me what it is. And she basically sent the jury back into the jury room to continue deliberating.

BLOCK: And that's not uncommon. This is a standard charge - called an Allen charge, right? - that judges give to juries when they have not reached unanimity. But it was grounds for the defense to ask for a mistrial.

LEWIS: Absolutely. The defense did ask for a mistrial. The judge said no - and basically said, go back to the jury room; continue deliberating.

And the thinking was - is that it wasn't going to be much longer and in fact, the jury, just in the last couple of minutes, has handed out another note to the judge. Folks are meeting in the courtroom right now, and it's anyone's guess what that note says.

But sort of the thinking in from some assistant forema - assistant U.S. attorneys that I've been able to talk to here just in the last hour - the thinking is, is that it will likely be a mistrial. But we will learn that very soon.

BLOCK: And have prosecutors said if this is, indeed, a mistrial, would they pursue a new trial?

LEWIS: Well, that's a good question. You know, nobody knows that. This assistant U.S. attorney who was talking to the media just a little while ago - not affiliated with this case, not affiliated with the office bringing it - said, you know, some of the wow-ness of the factor had - came out. It wasn't as sexy as some had thought it might be, with some of the details that they had thought might come out; with some of the people that they thought might testify, people who didn't testify - people like John Edwards; people like Rielle Hunter, John Edwards' mistress, who ended up having the child - that began all of this.

And so it's anyone's guess if the prosecution would decide to hold out another trial. But, you know, we should remember that this trial has gone six weeks to this point - so far. So it is a long process, indeed.

BLOCK: And Russell, as you've talked with attorneys watching this case - other observers there, in Greensboro - what have they said about the trial itself, and about the jury?

LEWIS: Well, the jury is seen as very workman-like. It's seen as taking careful notes during the trial, nodding during closing statements by attorneys and paying attention and taking careful notes. And the fact that this jury has been deliberating for essentially nine days and really hasn't asked the judge for anything but the exhibits from the case is seen as it's very methodical. It's a very complex case and it's clear that they've been working through it in a very sort of methodical way.

And, you know, the fact that they're continuing to do it and continuing to send notes out saying now that perhaps they've reached some difficult points, you know, shows that the jury is taking its job seriously.

BLOCK: Okay, Russell, thank you so much.

LEWIS: You're welcome.

That's NPR's Russell Lewis at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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