GREENSBORO, N.C. — Those color-coordinated alternate jurors in the John Edwards corruption case are at it again.
The four alternates — three women and one man — each wore gray or black tops Tuesday. Last week, they were even more in sync, each wearing red tops Friday and yellow Thursday.
The curious behavior of the alternates lends a bit of a sideshow atmosphere to deliberations scheduled to stretch into an eighth day Wednesday. One of the alternates, a 20-something woman, has frequently smiled at Edwards, sometimes flipping her hair or eyeing him in a manner that some have interpreted as flirtatious. But on Tuesday, the woman — dubbed “the Lady in Red” over the weekend by some commentators — was much more reserved.
There have been hints at tensions in the jury room, and on Tuesday, Judge Catherine Eagles lamented to jurors and alternates in open court that many things can happen during long deliberations and “some aren’t good.” Eagles warned the jurors about making sure that their deliberations cannot be overheard in the courtroom.
During the week of deliberations, at least one juror has gestured across the room at alternates in the courtroom during breaks. The jury and the alternates have had an unusual level of interaction during the deliberations. Some judges don’t allow alternates to mingle with jurors, but Eagles has grouped them together in the same room for lunch.
“That’s very unusual,” Kieran Shanahan, a defense attorney said, as have prosecutors.
Eagles seemed to be urging both jurors and alternates to relax Tuesday, saying, “Give yourself a mental break over lunch.”
The trial is in its sixth week. Edwards is accused of six counts of campaign finance violations and conspiracy for allegedly failing to report to the Federal Election Commission nearly $1 million in payments from wealthy donors to cover-up his extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter and the child she bore him.
The jury has been given hundreds of exhibits for a second look, and the judge seemed to be digging in Thursday for much more deliberating. Before they went off to lunch, Eagles told jurors and alternates that she would consider scheduling conflicts raised by jurors not only this week, but also next week. “It appears,” she said, “to be high school graduation season.”
Just before jurors entered the courtroom late Tuesday afternoon, Eagles startled the courtroom audience. She said she’d received a note from the jury. “They have reached a ... ” Eagles said. But then she stopped, pausing for a few seconds that seemed almost interminable as the audience waited.
Finally, she completed her sentence, saying “a good stopping point.” Peals of nervous laughter rang out in the courtroom. Edwards, who has often been somber and disengaged, opened his mouth wide, laughing out loud. For a moment, he looked like the candidate who had charmed audiences, not the defendant beaten down emotionally by revelations of the lies he’d told about his philandering.
As the news sank in across the room, laughter gave way to resignation that the long, slow march was far from over.
“That was mean,” Eagles said, clearly realizing the impact of her long pause on a weary courtroom crowd. “I’m sorry.”