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Jury to begin deliberating in Edwards trial

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:58 PM EDT, Thu May 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The jury will begin deliberating Friday morning
  • NEW: Edwards sewed "seeds of destruction," prosecutor says in closing arguments
  • NEW: Just because Edwards "was a bad husband" doesn't mean he's guilty, defense argues
  • If convicted, John Edwards would face up to 30 years in prison

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) -- Closing arguments concluded Thursday afternoon in the corruption trial of John Edwards, after his defense team rested its case without calling the former Democratic presidential candidate's ex-mistress to testify.

The jury will begin deliberating Friday morning. The judge read instructions to the jury late Thursday afternoon and then adjourned proceedings for the day.

Attorneys for Edwards also chose not to call his eldest daughter, Cate, and prosecution star witness Andrew Young, a former Edwards campaign aide, before wrapping up their case Wednesday.

The government alleges Edwards "knowingly and willingly" accepted large amounts of money from wealthy campaign donors Fred Baron and Rachel Mellon to hide former mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy in an effort to remain a viable candidate in his 2008 presidential campaign.

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the defense team's failure to call more witnesses did not necessarily signify anything.

Edwards defense rests
Edwards' corruption trial: Defense rests

"The defense clearly feels that its core argument is already before the jurors — which is that, whatever you think of Edwards as a human being, there is no way that he regarded the payments by Baron and Mellon as campaign contributions," Toobin said.

The former U.S. senator's trial is under way in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is charged with six counts of illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and falsifying documents. The trial is in its fourth week. If found guilty on all charges, Edwards would face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Hunter lives a distance from Edwards in North Carolina. However, they both parent their 4-year-old daughter.

After not attending court Wednesday, Cate Edwards was back in the courtroom for closing arguments Thursday, joining her grandparents behind John Edwards.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon went first, shaping a narrative for the jury a narrative that started on December 30, 2006, the day Edwards announced his run for president.

On that day, the prosecution said, Edwards had already sown "the seeds of the destruction of his campaign" by engaging in an affair with Rielle Hunter.

Using the "seeds of destruction" as a refrain, Higdon marched through the facts of the case chronologically, holding Edward responsible for both for the predicament he found himself in and the "scheme" that sought to cover up his affair and child with Hunter.

Prosecutors asserted that Edwards knew his political ambitions depended on keeping the affair secret.

"There is no question it would destroy the campaign of John Edwards," Higdon said.

According to the prosecution, it was Edwards who manipulated Andrew Young, and others, to hide his mistress. The prosecution did admit Young made several mistakes over the years, including: keeping the money given to him by Mellon, not confronting Edwards earlier about his behavior, and falsely claiming paternity for Edwards' child with Hunter.

The prosecution argued that since Edwards had a career in politics that reached back to 1998, first as a senator, then as a candidate for president, Edwards was familiar with the campaign finance laws.

"He knew these rules well," Higdon said, including what it meant to ask donors to "max out" to his campaign, the legal limit an individual can give to a campaign.

Therefore, he should have known that the contributions from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and Fred Baron were breaking campaign finance laws, Higdon argued.

Part of the government's burden in the case is proving that Edwards "knowingly and willingly" broke the law.

Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell followed with a two hour closing argument that was interrupted by a lunch break.

"This is a case that should define the difference between someone committing a wrong and someone committing a crime," Lowell said, "between a sin and a felony."

Just because "John," as Lowell referred to his client, "was a bad husband, someone who lied to his family," it doesn't mean he is guilty, Lowell said.

There is "not the remotest chance that John violated federal campaign laws," Lowell said. He noted that if what Edwards did was a crime, "the government better build a lot more courtrooms" because more politicians would be subject to prosecution.

Lowell spent a good portion of his time discrediting Andrew Young, telling the jury "there is nothing he won't lie about, nothing."

The Youngs, Lowell said, "could shame Bonny and Clyde" for their actions since the cover up began in 2006. The Youngs were motivated by money, according to the defense. Andrew Young still has financial stake in the case, the defense contended, as well as an immunity deal with the government.

Because the Youngs' testimony is biased and unreliable, the defense argued, the jury has enough "reasonable doubt" to acquit Edwards of the charges. For Edwards, he was only concerned about keeping the story away from his wife, Elizabeth, Lowell said.

After Lowell, attorney David Harbach of the U.S. Justice Department's public integrity section gave the prosecution's rebuttal. He said the defense spent time attacking Young to divert the jury from paying attention to the charges against Edwards.

"The defense is overplaying their hand," Harbach said.

Harbach also said some of the testimony from Andrew Young actually hurt the prosecution's case, which blows a hole in Lowell's argument that Young only said things to help the prosecution.

Following closing arguments, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles read instructions to the jury for about an hour. One juror asked a question, wanting to know how to define the term "influencing an election." The judge reread a portion of the instructions to the jury.

CNN's Ted Metzger, Raelyn Johnson, Adam Reiss, Joe Johns and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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