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Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 05/26/2012

With color-coordinated alternate jurors, is John Edwards trial officially a circus?

The John Edwards trial already had enough drama for a dozen episodes of “Law and Order” and twice that many tabloid headlines: husband cheating on dying wife, pregnant mistress, betrayed confidant, 101-year-
Former U.S. senator John Edwards walks back into the federal courthouse after a break Friday, the sixth day of jury deliberations in his trial in Greensboro, N.C. Edwards is charged with accepting excessive campaign funds to conceal an extramarital affair while he ran for president. (John Adkisson - REUTERS)
old heiress with a trail of mystery checks.

Now it has more, according to a Washington Post story — four alternate jurors who dressed in red shirts on Friday, a day after they all appeared wearing bright yellow. That’s not all, say courtroom observers. The four have been spotted giggling as they enter the courtroom, and one, “an attractive young woman,” the story said, “has been spotted smiling at Edwards and flipping her hair in what seems to some to be a flirtatious manner. On Friday, she wore a revealing red top with a single strap and an exposed right shoulder.”

Reportedly, Edwards smiled back.

This, apparently, is going on with jury deliberations in Greensboro, N.C., at six days and counting, and all indications that the 12 people deciding the case are taking things seriously. They are requesting and sifting through court exhibits and testimony detailing the money Edwards received from said heiress, Bunny Mellon, and the late Dallas attorney Fred Baron, allegedly to hide the mistress who didn’t testify.

That said, two members of the jury also wore red on Friday and during breaks have been seen gesturing toward alternates at the opposite end of the courtroom.

Is John Edwards a criminal who broke federal election law or merely an all-around villain? After listening to the testimony and the instructions of Judge Catherine Eagles, Melinda Henneberger says she would vote guilty if she were a juror. Though she didn’t say so, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be agonizing over colorful outfit choices each morning.

You have to wonder what’s going on with the alternate jurors. Are they bored and a little resentful, having to sit through days of a trial without getting to weigh in on a final decision? Are they staking a claim to the publicity and residual glow that come with involvement in a celebrity trial, the seamier the better?

I’ve been taking it all in from down the road in Charlotte, where ex-Edwards mistress Rielle Hunter lives without too much fuss; people sympathize with her and Edwards’s young daughter, who did not get to choose her parents. I’m a little embarrassed that this is the North Carolina headline dominating news reports — well, at least since residents approved a constitutional amendment making same-sex marriage illegal two times over.

But my view reveals not a circus but something all too real: Cate Edwards, standing by her father while she relives the physical and emotional pain of her mother’s last weeks — the mother she startlingly resembles and eloquently eulogized. Then, there sit John Edwards’s elderly parents, in the courtroom to support a son they once took such pride in, one who rose from humble roots and is now taking the biggest of falls.

I remember a conversation I had with Edwards just after the loss of the John Kerry-John Edwards ticket in the 2004 presidential race. Elizabeth Edwards was going through treatment for cancer then, and he looked worried and concerned. He told me he was thankful for prayers and that his wife was handling her illness well, though the physical toll, like losing her hair, was difficult for her. He talked about their children
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards campaigning with his wife, Elizabeth, at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, in January 2008. (John Gress - REUTERS)
and what a comfort they were to her.

Now one of them, visibly shaken, flees a Greensboro courtroom as a former adviser describes angry airport arguments and a campaign crumbling amid lies and recrimination.

While alternate jurors passed the time in sartorial harmony, the Post story said it was noted that Edwards himself had ended his four-day streak of wearing a green tie to court. “NBC’s Lisa Meyer asked Edwards whether he was wearing his lucky tie on Thursday, and he responded with a smile, “I’m not sayin’.” Yes, he was wearing a red one on Friday.

Dorian Gray — the fictional Oscar Wilde character who remained outwardly unchanged even as his portrait registered the effects of his descent into corruption — has nothing on this man. John Edwards walks through the carnage he has created looking as youthful as ever. At first dismissed as a pretty boy, many took a second look because he wasn’t married to a Barbie, but a real woman — smart, difficult and tough. Eventually he betrayed her and so many others who believed in him. Whatever the jury verdict, it’s doubtful he can recover.

That picture in his attic can’t be pretty.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

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