Edwards, a 58-year-old Democrat who served one term in the U.S. Senate, has become such a pariah here that many of his closest friends and supporters have cut off ties with him. During many days of the trial, his 30-year-old daughter Cate was the sum total of his support network inside the court, though his elderly parents also spent considerable time there in the final days of testimony.
Edwards’s downfall can be traced back to a chance 2006 encounter in a New York hotel with Rielle Hunter, an eccentric videographer who walked up to him, said, “You’re so hot,” and handed him a business card that read: “Rielle Hunter: Being is free.” Edwards and Hunter soon began an affair, which Edwards continued even after it was discovered by his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who was battling the cancer that took her life in 2010.
Elizabeth Edwards was so consumed and pained by her husband’s lies that she demanded phone records from campaign staffers to see whether he was calling Hunter and scoured financial records. Because of his wife’s suspicions, Edwards—who became wealthy as a trial lawyer before entering politics—was unable to use his personal fortune to hide the affair, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors tried to prove that Edwards conspired with his close aide, Andrew Young, and two wealthy donors—the Texas lawyer Fred Baron and Mellon, the Virginia heiress and Kennedy clan intimate—to conceal the affair with Hunter and the child he fathered with her. But they were hampered by a lack of witnesses who could say that Edwards knowingly violated campaign finance laws.
Young—the prosecution’s star witness—was the one person who most definitively stated that Edwards was aware of the money flowing to the coverup and about its possible illegality. But Young’s credibility was undercut by the financial motivations emphasized by Edwards’s defense team.
Young has gained financially from the imbroglio, writing a bestselling book and working on a possible movie deal. Defense attorneys tried to portray him as a liar who could not be trusted, but he gave riveting testimony about plotting with Edwards and supplemented his remarks by giving investigators copies of taped phone conversations with the man he once called “boss.” Young and his wife, Cheri, also held one of the seedier pieces of evidence, a sex tape showing Hunter and Edwards together, though jurors would only hear about it—not see it.
Edwards was judged by a diverse jury in this city of more than a quarter million situated in the rolling hills of North Carolina’s north-central Piedmont region. Among the jurors was a special education teacher, a financial consultant, a corporate vice president, two mechanics and retirees who had worked as a railroad engineer, an accountant and in the fire and police departments.
During long hours of testimony, most jurors seemed to be paying close attention, scribbling notes on legal pads while rocking in the red leather chairs of the jury box across the courtroom from the defense table where Edwards sat.