The partial acquittal and mistrial of John Edwards was a major defeat for the Justice Department and the beleaguered Public Integrity Section — the same section involving in the Stevens trial debacle. However, as previously discussed, the case against Edwards was in my view an over-reach for the Justice Department which (again) appeared more motivated by the public outcry over Edwards’ infidelity than the actual statutory authority. The jury was correct in its ruling and showed again how average American citizens can be counted on to look beyond the sensational and disturbing conduct of a defendant to reach the right conclusion.
Edwards was guilty of being a cad and a despicable person — two offenses not found in the criminal code. The Public Integrity Section team however dragged out every prejudicial element to parade his conduct before the jury — conduct immaterial to the charges. It did not work. The jury looked beyond the terrible betrayal of his wife who was dying of cancer and the salacious details of his mistress who treated Edwards aides like bell boys and maids.
The acquittal on the campaign finance charge was particularly important. That was the heart of the case against Edwards and the count that many of us questioned as an over-reach of the law. The $200,000 from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon was deposited after Edwards dropped out of the presidential race. The deadlock on the remaining counts shows the weakness in the government’s case. Prosecutors start such trials with a huge advantage. Despite the formal presumption of innocence, most jurors assume the defendant is there for a good reason. When you add the sensational details highlighted by the government counsel, it becomes a deadly mix for the defense.
I observed during the trial that the strategy of the defense seemed to me to be a hung jury strategy. Resting the case early seemed to avoid the risk of a backlash from putting Edwards or his mistress on the stand in favor of relying on just enough doubt to divide the jury. It was a strategy based on the belief that the government would not retry the case after spending millions on a dubious case. That gamble clearly paid off.
Source: Washington Post