The judge overseeing the John Edwards campaign corruption trial sent the jury home Wednesday after eight days of talks without a verdict and released the four alternate jurors, who have garnered attention for their matching shirts but have not participated in the deliberations.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles cautioned the alternates not to discuss or read media reports about the trial in case they need to be recalled. Eagles gave no indication whether she believed the 12 jurors are any closer to deciding the fate of the two-time Democratic presidential candidate.
The four alternate jurors began drawing attention last week when they wore the same color shirts, including shades of yellow, red and, on Wednesday, purple. The alternate jurors appeared ecstatic they were going home, with one woman pumping her fist in apparent delight.
"This means you can go back to your lives," Eagles told the alternates. "Everyone in the courtroom will miss your cheerful faces and regret not knowing the color for tomorrow."
The move came after Eagles met behind closed doors with prosecutors and Edwards' defense lawyers at least six times in the last three days court was in session, providing no public explanation other than that they were discussing a "juror issue" and a "note from a juror."
Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor and Raleigh defense attorney who has been attending the trial, said if the issue involved the entire jury, proper procedure would be for Eagles to read the note in open court. However, if the issue involves a single juror, the judge could be trying to protect that individual's privacy, he said.
"If she is communicating with the jury, she should be doing that in open court," Shanahan said.
Eagles also gave her first response Wednesday to a motion filed by a coalition of 10 media outlets, including The Associated Press. The news organizations asked the judge to make public the names and addresses of the jurors at the end of the trial. Eagles said she will rule after a verdict.
Edwards faces six felony charges in a case involving nearly $1 million provided by two wealthy political donors to help hide the Democrat's pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
To determine Edwards' guilt or innocence, the jury must sift through notes from 17 days of testimony and review about 500 trial exhibits, many of them voluminous phone and financial records. They must not only determine whether the candidate knew about the secret payments, which he has denied, but whether he realized he was violating federal law by allowing them.
Edwards faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts, though legal experts say he is likely to serve no more than 5 years if convicted.
The deliberations have fed speculation about what the jury is thinking. As the four alternate jurors left the courtroom for what may be the last time, a smile disappeared from Eagles' face.
"At least we have four happy people," the judge said.
___ Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck