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Closing Arguments Made In John Edwards Trial


Impassioned, theatrical, exhausting - four hours of closing arguments today, in the trial of John Edwards in a federal courtroom in Greensboro, North Carolina. The former presidential candidate, and vice presidential nominee, is accused of accepting about a million dollars of secret payments to cover up an affair with a campaign worker.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii was in the courtroom. He joins us now. And Jeff, the government went first, presenting its closing arguments. What was their strategy?

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: The government retold its case, moving chronologically - just like it did when presenting evidence on its side of the case. They asked the jury to use common sense when deliberating, in considering if Edwards was unaware of this entire effort.

Prosecutor Bobby Higdon said: This scheme was designed for several reasons. He - Edwards - knowingly and willfully broke the law. The evidence is clear. He knew the law, having run for U.S. Senate in 1998 and the presidency in 2004. He was well-versed. He chose to hide his mistress.

BLOCK: And a lot has been made of these two wealthy donors. John Edwards has denied knowing about these payments. How did the prosecution try to prove him wrong, in their closing?

TIBERII: Well, they couldn't call either of these two. One hundred one-year-old Rachel "Bunny" Mellon was not compelled to testify; and Fred Baron, a very wealthy trial attorney, passed away a couple of years ago. So neither of them took the stand.

Higdon said this about Baron today: This wasn't a guy helping out a friend. This was an attempt to save a presidential campaign. There were exotic vacations, hideouts; and it was all to conceal an affair.

And later on, U.S. Attorney David Harbach said of what's now being referred to as the Bunny money: She doesn't give him $725,000 if he's not running for president. No way, no how. She might not even have given him a dime.

BLOCK: Well, the defense was up next. How did they do? What did they say?

TIBERII: Defense attorney Abbe Lowell began his two hours of argument by drawing a line. And he said: There is an important difference between a wrong and a crime. John Edwards committed an offense against his family, but broke no law. He has committed a sin, but no felony. He was a bad husband who tried desperately to hide his affair. He is not guilty of campaign finance violations.

The other main thing that Lowell did today was, really continue his assault on the prosecution's key witness, Andrew Young. And remember, this is the former Edwards confidant. He went into hiding with Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter; initially claimed paternity of what we now know as Edward's daughter. He was the one who received, and deposited, hundreds of thousands of dollars from those two wealthy donors.

And evidence has demonstrated that Young kept most of that money. It actually went into his family home. So Lowell made another effort to point out some of the inconsistencies with Young's testimony, when compared to what other witnesses have said, and also comparing Young to what Young had said differently - in grand jury testimony, and also in interviews with the FBI. Overall, Abbe Lowell - this defense attorney - he's right out of a John Grisham novel. He's incredibly entertaining to watch in the courtroom.

BLOCK: And we should mention that that witness, Andrew Young, was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, right?

TIBERII: Correct. That's absolutely correct.

BLOCK: Jeff, it's always tricky to gauge how a jury is feeling about a case, but you were watching them today. Could you tell how they were responding to either side?

TIBERII: This was really the most animated we've seen them. They were taking notes for really the full four hours; a lot of eye contact with some of the lawyers. They were nodding, at times, with the defense attorneys - not sure what that means, whether they're just following along or in agreement, but they were nodding along.

This jury will begin deliberating the fate of John Edwards tomorrow. And if convicted, he'll face up to 30 years in prison.

BLOCK: OK. Jeff, thank you so much.

TIBERII: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Jeff Tiberii with North Carolina Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.