Young’s wife returns to stand on Monday

Question swirl around Cheri Young in John Edwards’ trial

ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2012 

Andrew and Cheri Young in a Hillsborough courtroom.


— Cheri Young, the wife of former political aide Andrew Young, will resume testifying in John Edwards’ trial Monday and might add new wrinkles to a story that veers between tragedy and farce with each disclosure.

Cheri Young is a 38-year-old part-time nurse and full-time mother in a dramatic cast of women linked to the former Democratic presidential candidate. The cast includes the mistress, Rielle Hunter; the cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth Edwards, and the 101-year-old heiress, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who fawned over Edwards and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to help hide his affair.

Of the four women, Cheri Young may be the most enigmatic. Why did she agree to help her husband hide Edwards’ affair by depositing huge checks under her maiden name? How could she agree to let her husband falsely claim paternity for the child Edwards fathered with Hunter? What was she thinking by taking her three children along as she, her husband and Hunter hop-scotched across the country trying to escape National Enquirer reporters?

Some of these questions may be answered in the days ahead as Cheri Young explains what many people, especially women, want to know about her motives.

In her testimony, which started Friday, she gave a hint of her reluctance to be in the political game, but that only makes the questions of why she went along ring louder.

An attractive, petite woman with what might be called a high-pitched voice, she testified that she tried at least once to leave the inside-the-beltway politics into which her husband, Andrew, pulled their family when John Edwards was a U.S. senator from North Carolina.

The couple had been in Washington, D.C., for only a few months when 9/11 terrorists crashed planes into New York City’s World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Washington. Cheri Young, married two years earlier on that date, had a 5-month-old baby and was fed up with the menial tasks and long hours her husband was putting in for Edwards.

“I really didn’t like the lifestyle,” Cheri Young said Friday.

Scared and frustrated, she tried to leave it all behind in 2001, moving back to Raleigh while her husband stayed inside the beltway for six more months.

But Cheri Young, who is expected to be on the witness stand most of Monday, was unable to distance herself from that political world and the man who had mesmerized her husband at a trial lawyers’ convention in Myrtle Beach.

The trial of Edwards, 58, has offered a plot line that raises many questions, not only about what the key people tied to the indictment were thinking, but also about whether prosecutors have built the foundation of their case on the account of Young, a man who acknowledged on the stand last week that a good portion of the $900,000 at the center of their case went toward Young’s $1.5 million Orange County home.

Cheri Young, 38, grew up in Illinois and went to school there. She studied nursing and became a pediatrics nurse who also taught at Wake Tech.

She and Andrew Young met in Cancun, Mexico, and eventually lived together in Raleigh. They married on Sept. 11, 1999.

Andrew Young, who spent 20 hours testifying last week, by then had been to law school, but was never licensed by the state bar. He had tried his hand at running what defense lawyers called a sports bar and he described as a “sports restaurant.” That venture, though, didn’t work out.

Dazzled by Edwards

Andrew Young, 46, also worked briefly at the state commerce department and for the N.C. Academy of Trial lawyers, doing jobs, he recalled, that paid in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.

Edwards was a trial lawyer stepping into politics when the two met. Young testified during five days on the witness stand that he was not only drawn to the political message, he also thought his relationship with Edwards could lead to good things.

Fourteen years later, the two families are all in a Greensboro federal courtroom together, arguing two different sides of a government case that could test the limits of campaign finance law.

Lawyers say trials have many ebbs and flows for each side.

Andrew Young, prosecutors contended from the start, would be a man jurors might not like. He had been untruthful in the past, he was less than forthcoming with defense lawyers, often stating that he could not recall or couldn’t be sure of events he had hours or days earlier described in great detail for prosecutors.

Defense attorneys described the former political aide as a liar and a spurned sycophant who nearly soured his own immunity deal with prosecutors by ignoring instructions to not contact witnesses in the case.

Young throughout the trial dodged most questions about his family’s finances, testifying that his wife tended to those details.

Cheri Young endorsed checks that had come from Mellon via a decorator in western North Carolina and deposited them into the Youngs’ private bank accounts.

Edwards is charged with conspiring to secretly obtain more than $900,000 to hide his pregnant mistress from the media, an action that prosecutors contend is a violation of campaign finance laws.

Though there was much testimony in the first week about the flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars, there was little about campaign finance law.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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