John Edwards trial judge sends colorful alternate jurors home

For nearly a week, the dark-haired young woman with the bubbly manner was the It Girl of the John Edwards trial.

She walked in flipping her hair, smiling broadly at the man at the defense table, batting her long eyelashes, cocking her head playfully. She was just an alternate juror, but suddenly she was the most watched person in the cramped federal courtroom.

Commentators had dubbed her the “Lady in Red” after she bopped into the courtroom last week in a revealing, off-the-shoulder red top. Others just called her the “flirty one,” interpreting her vivacity as some kind of courtship dance, though no one can say for sure whether that was her intent.

The spectacle of tracking every twitch or gesture of this particular alternate juror lent something of a circus atmosphere to the proceedings. That aura was only intensified by the four alternates wearing tops of the same color for each of the past four court days: yellow last Thursday, red on Friday, black and gray on Tuesday, and purple on Wednesday.

But, finally, the judge overseeing a case scheduled to stretch into its ninth day of deliberations on Thursday seemed to have had enough.

On Wednesday, Judge Catherine Eagles — a seasoned state court judge who has been on the federal bench for less than two years — sent the alternates home.

They could still be recalled to replace a regular juror. But they will no longer be forced to sit for hours in a federal courtroom waiting while the main jury wrestles with six campaign finance and conspiracy counts related to nearly $1 million in payments from two wealthy benefactors.

Prosecutors say the payments were used to cover up Edwards’s extramarital affair with videographer Rielle Hunter during his 2008 presidential campaign.

“Everyone in the courtroom is going to miss your cheerful faces, and we’ll regret not knowing the color for tomorrow,” Eagles said.

Eagles’s handling of the alternate jurors had been highly unusual, according to legal experts. Many judges send them home during deliberations but tell them they cannot watch media reports about the case because they might have to replace a juror.

Eagles not only kept the alternates at the courthouse but also allowed them to eat lunch with the regular jury, a kind of proximity other judges seek to avoid to prevent outside opinions from influencing the regular jury.

Edwards’s renowned defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, who has been in a glum and seemingly agitated state for several days, smiled as Eagles made her announcement.

But the punctuation mark was delivered by the now-famous alternate juror, about whom little is known, except her profession as a pharmacist.

As she walked out of the courtroom, she pumped her fist in joy.

Manuel Roig-Franzia is a writer in The Washington Post’s Style section. His long-form articles span a broad range of subjects, including politics, power and the culture of Washington, as well as profiling major political figures and authors.
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