Is there a problem with the Edwards jury?

Judge meets with Edwards jury three times Wednesday

By Anne Blythe May 30, 2012 

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Former Sen. John Edwards is all smiles as he leaves the court at the lunch break at the Federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C. Wednesday May 30, 2012. Jurors began their eighth day of deliberation as they decide Edwards' fate in the trial on his guilt or innocence on six charges related to violations of campaign-finance laws.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— As the wait for a verdict in the John Edwards trial becomes longer and longer, a new element of intrigue has become intertwined with the anticipation of a decision.

Some wonder: Is there a problem with the jury?

Judge Catherine Eagles had three closed-door sessions with lawyers on Wednesday but offered little detail in public about what was discussed.

After the third session, shortly before the jury went home for the afternoon, Eagles stated: “We’ve been dealing with a note from one of the regular jurors.”

The jury completed its eighth day of deliberations without rendering a verdict. The eight men and four women have been behind closed doors for twice as long as it took the defense to present its side of the case.

Though the jurors are to return Thursday morning to continue their deliberations, Eagles gave the alternate jurors news late Wednesday that made them jump up and down in the hallway just outside the courtroom, their hands raised gleefully in the air.

Though Eagles did not release the three women and man from their duties as alternate jurors, she told them they did not have to come to the courthouse to wait as the full jury deliberated outside their presence.

The alternates — a smiley group who coordinate their shirt colors each day — still cannot talk about the case with anybody. They are not to read or watch media reports. But they can go on with their lives as best they can, no longer waiting together in a room in the federal courthouse, at the ready to step in if any of the 12 jurors can no longer continue to serve.

“Everyone in the courtroom is going to miss your cheerful faces,” Eagles told the alternates, who wore shades of purple on Wednesday. “And we will regret not knowing your color for tomorrow.”

On Thursday, they all wore yellow. On Friday, it was red. On Tuesday, it was black and shades of gray.

It is unclear what the juror issue is that has sent the lawyers behind closed doors with the judge. Eagles has not read the juror note or notes into the public record.

Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor who practices law in Los Angeles, said, “It’s totally speculative on my part, but it sounds like one of two things: It could be a deadlocked issue, or an issue with a particular juror, someone who is not participating or not participating in a way that they should.”

Reminded of the rules

Eagles reminded jurors on Wednesday that they were not to deliberate in small groups or without all 12 present.

“In order to reach a verdict, you have to have a sense that (all the jurors) are following the rules and engaging in analysis and not undermining the process,” McRae said. “When you get camps, or even 11 jurors concerned about one juror, that’s a problem. It’s the feeling that, ‘We can’t reach a unanimous verdict because this person is doing something.’ … It just shows how delicate it is, how precarious it is to actually get a verdict.”

Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based lawyer who also serves as a jury consultant, said the repeated closed meetings about a juror matter are “pretty unusual.”

Others say that it’s not unusual for a federal judge in such a high-profile case to try to keep a juror’s personal issues private.

Alliances form with time

Tuerkheimer did say, though, that when a jury deliberates for lengthy periods, alliances can form and strong opinions can develop.

“It just seems like every day it wears on, jurors are becoming more firmly entrenched in their beliefs,” he said.

Edwards, 58, is accused of violating campaign finance laws by conspiring to secretly obtain more than $900,000 from two billionaire supporters to hide his pregnant mistress. The violations allegedly occurred during Edwards’ campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

His defense team contends the payments were gifts, not related to the campaign and therefore not subject to public reporting or federal limits.

Edwards, who was a successful Raleigh trial lawyer, U.S. senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee, spent most of Wednesday waiting away from the courthouse. He came in late in the afternoon as the lawyers went behind closed doors for the third time to discuss a juror matter.

Staff writer Ned Barnett contributed to this report.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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