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John Edwards trial jury selection under way

April 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Jury selection began Thursday in the criminal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards.

A mob of reporters greeted Edwards as he arrived at the courthouse in Greensboro, N.C.

Edwards sat at the defense table as about 100 potential jurors filed into the courtroom. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles then asked Edwards to stand and face them. He smiled and nodded as the judge introduced him.

Edwards, who served a single term in the U.S. Senate, is accused of taking in close to $1 million from campaign donors to help hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.

Eagles said the case is not about whether Edwards was a good husband or politician, but about whether he violated campaign finance laws. The judge also emphasized the potential jurors' important role in the upcoming trial and ordered them not to tell anyone, even their families, that they had been called for the Edwards case.

She also advised them to put out of their minds any media coverage they had seen and to ignore any legal dramas they might have seen on television, because such shows may mischaracterize the law or how a courtroom operates.

By next week, the jury pool is expected to be whittled down to 12 jurors and at least four alternate jurors are expected to attend each day of the proceedings. Opening arguments are scheduled to begin April 22. The trial is expected to last six weeks, though the judge warned it could go even longer.

The money in question was flowed to Andrew Young, Edwards' former campaign aide who initially claimed the baby was his. Young is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution. The mistress, Rielle Hunter, may testify as part of Edwards' defense.

After years of adamant public denials, Edwards acknowledged paternity of Hunter's daughter in 2010.

A key question will be whether Edwards knew about the payments made on his behalf by his national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, an heiress and socialite who is now 101 years old. Both had already given Edwards' campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Edwards denies having known about the money, which paid for private jets, luxury hotels and Hunter's medical care. Prosecutors will try to prove he sought and directed the payments to cover up his affair, protect his public image as a "family man" and keep his presidential hopes viable.

Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and as much as $1.5 million in fines if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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