Former US senator John Edwards had it all: money, good looks and a stellar presence in the Democratic Party that included two presidential bids. Then he cheated on his dying, cancer-stricken wife and now faces prison for taking money to cover up the affair.
The trial against Edwards — White House contender Senator John Kerry’s vice presidential choice in 2004 — begins today in federal court in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Edwards faces six charges related to accepting nearly US$1 million to hide his affair with -videographer Rielle Hunter and the child he fathered with her.
In the indictment, prosecutors argue that Edwards “knowing and willfully” broke the law by accepting the cash as an illegal contribution to his 2008 presidential campaign to maintain his image as a model family man.
The case relies heavily on -testimony from Andrew Young, a former close Edwards aide who initially claimed to be the father of baby Quinn so the politician could continue his 2008 presidential bid.
Young later wrote a tell-all book about the affair in which he detailed an elaborate cover-up.
The defense claims the contributions were personal gifts to Edwards from rich friends to hide the affair from his wife, and were unrelated to the campaign.
“I did not break the law and I never ever thought that I was breaking the law,” Edwards said, accompanied by his oldest daughter, Cate, now 30, in June last year, when he pleaded not guilty.
Edwards acknowledged mistakes, but said they were not crimes.
“There’s no question that I’ve done wrong and I take full responsibility for having done wrong and I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others,” he said.
If convicted, Edwards faces up to five years behind bars for each of six counts of accepting, receiving and concealing the money.
Legal analysts say the case could expand the definition of campaign contributions.
“This is a legal theory on which no one has ever been prosecuted,” his attorney Jim Cooney said at a hearing in June last year.
The politician’s popular wife, Elizabeth Edwards, was an attorney who attracted enormous sympathy when it became known she had battled cancer while grappling with her husband’s infidelity. She died in December 2010.
The two had been college sweethearts, and had four children.
Edwards made his name when he won a US$3.7 million settlement in favor of a permanently brain-damaged client in a 1984 medical malpractice case thought to be unwinnable.
His landmark case was a 1996 product liability lawsuit, in which his 90-minute closing argument to the jury evoked the recent death in a car accident of his 16-year-old son Wade.
The family of the five-year-old girl who had been tragically disemboweled by a swimming pool suction pump was granted US$25 million, the largest personal injury award in North Carolina’s history.
Edwards publicly admitted to the affair with Hunter in August 2008, after his presidential bid ended, but did not recognize he had fathered the child until January 2010.
According to the court schedule, jury selection will be completed today and opening arguments will start later in the day.
“It was in the courtroom that I learned how, when you build a case, every detail matters and every bit counts,” Edwards wrote in his 2003 autobiography Four Trials.