What key witnesses said at Hunter Biden's gun trial

ByLucien Bruggeman ABCNews logo
Tuesday, June 11, 2024 8:32PM

A jury on Tuesday found Hunter Biden guilty on three felony charges related to his efforts to obtain a firearm in October 2018.

The president's son had been charged with two counts related to false statements in purchasing the firearm and a third count of illegally obtaining a firearm while addicted to drugs.

Over the past week, a jury of 12 Delawareans heard vivid and personal details about President Joe Biden's family.

Hunter Biden could face up to 25 years in prison, though legal experts believe he would not serve time as a first-time and nonviolent offender.

President Joe Biden previously told ABC News he would not pardon his son. In a statement Tuesday, he vowed to respect the jury's decision.

"I am more grateful today for the love and support I experienced this last week from [wife Melissa Cohen Biden], my family, my friends, and my community than I am disappointed by the outcome," Hunter Biden said in a statement after the verdict.

His attorney Abbe Lowell said they "will continue to vigorously pursue all the legal challenges available to Hunter."

By the numbers

Hunter Biden's trial saw 13 witnesses on the stand and at least 70 exhibits entered into evidence - including more than 290 text messages the government used to make its case against the president's son.

The testimony heard by jury stretched over five days, from last Tuesday through Friday, and then this past Monday morning.

Thirteen different witnesses testified - 10 called by the government and three by the defense. Five of those government witnesses were law enforcement or expert witnesses.

Surveillance video was also played in court.

Key prosecution witnesses

Last week, prosecutors summoned his ex-wife and two of his exes to the stand in an effort to chip away at the defense's argument that the president's son wasn't addicted to drugs when he filled out a form to purchase a firearm in 2018.

Hallie Biden

Hallie Biden, the widow of President Joe Biden's late son Beau Biden, testified as a key government witness, recounting in excruciating detail the "terrible experience" of Hunter Biden's drug addiction in the months leading up to her discovery of a firearm in his vehicle.

Prosecutors used the testimony of Hallie Biden, who was Hunter Biden's romantic partner at the time, to attest to Hunter Biden's drug use in October 2018, when prosecutors say Hunter Biden lied on an ATF form when he said he wasn't using drugs at the time he purchased the firearm.

In dramatic testimony, Hallie Biden said that on the morning of Oct. 23, 2018, she went to go "clean out" Hunter's car in hopes of helping him "deal with stuff" and possibly "get sober if she wasn't"-- but she ultimately found both a gun, remnants of drugs, and drug paraphernalia.

"What did you find, in addition to trash and clothes?" prosecutor Leo Wise asked her.

"Remnants of crack cocaine and some paraphernalia," Hallie recounted. "Oh and the gun, obviously."

"I panicked, I wanted to get rid of them," she told the jury.

Asked why she panicked, Hallie said " didn't want him to hurt himself," referring to Hunter. She said she also worried about her kids finding the gun, saying she considered "hiding" it somewhere but was worried they would find it.

Surveillance video

During Hallie Biden's testimony, jurors were shown surveillance video from the grocery store that shows Hallie Biden throwing the gun into the trash.

Ex-wife, another girlfriend

Ex-girlfriend Zoe Kestan, who met Hunter Biden as a private dancer at a New York gentlemen's club when she was 24 and he was 48, said she observed him smoking crack cocaine in late September 2018, just weeks before he walked into a Delaware gun shop and purchased a Colt Cobra revolver from Gordon Cleveland, another witness who testified on Wednesday.

Hunter Biden's ex-wife Kathleen Buhle testified about Hunter Biden's alcohol and drug abuse during their 25-year marriage, describing how their relationship deteriorated as her husband's drug abuse increased.

When Hunter Biden was on crack, Buhle testified, "He was not himself."

"He was angry, short-tempered, acting in ways he wouldn't when he was sober," she said.

Buhle said she would find drug "remnants in little bags" and drug paraphernalia like "a broken crack pipe" -- often enough that she would search his car before allowing her daughters to use it.

She said that despite his manner when he was on crack, he nonetheless managed to "function" normally as an addict -- possibly undermining the defense's claim that "there is no such thing as a high-functioning crack addict."

Buhle admitted during cross-examination that she never personally saw Hunter Biden use drugs.

Gun store clerk

Cleveland, the employee at the gun store who sold Hunter Biden the firearm in question, also testified, saying he watched from "about two feet" away as Hunter Biden filled out the form that asked applicants whether they were active drug users.

Cleveland testified that he watched as Hunter Biden answered several questions before he approached the drug-related question then marked the box with an "X."

Former Delaware State Police officer

Former Delaware State Police lieutenant Millard Greer described tracking down the gun after Hallie Biden had thrown it in the trash outside the supermarket.

Greer said he reviewed surveillance footage, interviewed witnesses, and ultimately retrieved the weapon from local resident Edward Banner, who was known to "rummage through trash."

Greer said Banner had placed the firearm in a sock along with a leather pouch containing the gun.

Banner, called as the government's last witness of the day, corroborated much of Greer's account, testifying he'd found the gun in a trash can outside the grocery store, stored it on a top shelf at home, and ultimately turned it over to Greer.

Key defense witnesses

Hunter's daughter

Naomi Biden, the 30-year-old daughter of Hunter Biden, testified that she twice saw her father during the timeframe in 2018 when Hunter Biden's attorneys said he was not actively using drugs, and each time, she testified, he "seemed great."

"He seemed like the clearest that I had seen him since my uncle died, and he just seemed really great," she said of an August 2018 visit to Los Angeles to see her father.

The next time she saw him, in New York, just days after he had purchased the firearm, "He seemed great, he seemed hopeful," she said.

It was important testimony for the defense, which was attempting to convince jurors that, despite his on-again-off-again addiction in the months prior to and after his gun purchase, Hunter Biden was not actively using drugs in October 2018.

But Naomi Biden's testimony later provided some favorable moments for the government's case, particularly when prosecutor Leo Wise read aloud from text messages that seemed to run contrary to her claim that Hunter Biden was doing "great."

In mid-October 2018, both Naomi and her father were in New York, attempting to exchange cars. Naomi Biden had used her father's vehicle -- the one in which, days later, Hallie Biden would find the Colt Cobra firearm -- to move from Washington, D.C., to New York.

In messages he sent in the early hours of the morning of Oct. 18, 2018, Hunter Biden suggested he and Naomi Biden's then-boyfriend meet to exchange cars at the Manhattan intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 57th Street -- the intersection where, coincidentally, Trump Tower sits.

"Do you know what your father was doing at 2 o'clock in the morning and why he was asking you for the car then?" Wise asked.

"No," she replied.

Those messages clearly upset her at the time, according to her responses, which prosecutors read aloud to jurors.

"I'm sorry daddy, I can't take this," she wrote. "I just miss you and want to hang out with you."

What specific conduct precipitated charges?

On Oct. 12, 2018, Hunter Biden purchased a Colt Cobra 38SPL revolver, a "speedloader" firearm accessory, and 25 rounds of ammunition from Wilmington, Delaware, gun store StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply, according to prosecutors. In the course of doing so, he filled out a federal form and checked a box signaling that he was not abusing drugs - the document at the heart of the government's case - despite allegedly knowing it to be untrue.

Hunter Biden allegedly possessed the firearm for less than two weeks. On Oct. 23, his then-romantic partner Hallie Biden discovered the weapon and discarded it in a dumpster outside of Janssen's Market, a Wilmington grocery store, prosecutors allege.

He later acknowledged in his 2021 memoir "Beautiful Things" that he was addicted to crack cocaine around that time.

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