Former US Senator Edwards' trial to start with jury selection

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2012 8:08 AM
Former US Senator Edwards' trial to start with jury selection

By Colleen Jenkins

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - Former U.S. Senator John Edwards is set to return to a courtroom on Thursday, a familiar setting for a man who made millions as a trial lawyer but now faces possible prison time if convicted of alleged federal campaign finance violations.

Jury selection for the two-time White House hopeful's criminal trial is scheduled to begin Thursday morning in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Edwards, 58, is accused of secretly obtaining more than $900,000 in illegal campaign funds from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress during his failed bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

The federal government says Edwards solicited the money to cover up the extramarital affair and child he had with a campaign videographer in order to protect his public image as a devoted family man.

Edwards was indicted on six counts in June 2011 and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. Each count carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The one-term North Carolina senator has admitted publicly to moral wrongs but is adamant that he did not break the law.

Edwards, who also ran for president in 2004 before becoming John Kerry's vice presidential running mate, saw his political star fall after revelations that he had cheated on his cancer-stricken wife with a campaign worker named Rielle Hunter.

He initially denied the affair and, according to the indictment, asked a campaign aide to falsely claim paternity of the daughter Hunter gave birth to in February 2008.

Edwards' rotating cast of defense attorneys since his indictment has argued in pre-trial hearings and court documents that the government is pursuing an "unprecedented" use of federal election laws.

They said even had Edwards known about the donor money used to pay for Hunter's rent, living expenses, medical care and travel, the gifts were from one third party to another and were not contributions subject to campaign finance laws.

Defense attorneys also have said the payments were intended to conceal the affair from Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, and their children, and were not aimed at influencing the election.

"The distinction between a wrong and a crime is at the heart of this case," the defense said in one court filing.

The Edwardses separated in 2010 after John Edwards admitted he was the father of Hunter's child, and Elizabeth Edwards died of cancer later that year.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2010, is presiding over the trial, which was delayed for several months due to a medical condition cited by John Edwards.

The judge has said she expects the proceedings to last about six weeks, with testimony due to start on April 23.

(Reporting By Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Vicki Allen)