By Colleen Jenkins
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator John Edwards must wait at least another day to learn the verdict in his federal campaign finance trial, as jurors ended deliberations on Monday without deciding whether he broke the law during his 2008 presidential bid.
Edwards is accused of using illegal political funds to hide his pregnant mistress during the campaign, and legal experts have said the outcome of the case could expand the scope of what qualifies as contributions in future elections.
The second day of deliberations in Greensboro, North Carolina, closed with the jury of eight men and four women asking to see a number of government exhibits for closer inspection.
Several of the items involved heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, one of two donors whom prosecutors say Edwards pursued for money that was aimed at keeping voters from learning of his affair while he sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The jury's focus appears to be on Mellon's intent in giving the so-called "Bunny Money," said Hampton Dellinger, a lawyer who has followed the case.
"Then the question is, are they also wrestling on Edwards' intent?" Dellinger said.
Prosecutors said Edwards, 58, masterminded a scheme that resulted in more than $900,000 being secretly funneled to his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and his aide, Andrew Young, who during the campaign falsely declared paternity of the baby Edwards fathered.
The Federal Election Campaign Act states that excess contributions are illegal if they are made for the purpose of influencing an election for federal office.
Edwards' attorneys acknowledged that the one-term senator from North Carolina knew about the $2,300 limit on contributions from individuals.
But the defense argued that Mellon and trial lawyer Fred Baron gave private gifts - not political contributions - to support Edwards' mistress and to prevent his cancer-stricken wife from finding out about Hunter's pregnancy.
"The bigger issue the defense raised is whether they were contributions at all," said Elon University law professor Catherine Dunham. "It's an area where there isn't a lot of law."
Dunham said that legal point would be central to an appeal if Edwards is convicted of charges that include conspiring to solicit the money, receiving more than the $2,300 allowed from any one donor, and failing to report the payments as contributions.
Each of the six felony counts he faces carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Jurors will resume their deliberations on Tuesday. They must reach a unanimous verdict to convict Edwards, a two-time presidential candidate and the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee.
(Additional reporting by Wade Rawlins; editing by Vicki Allen and Mohammad Zargham)