GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards’ defense team wrapped up its case Wednesday without calling the former presidential candidate, his mistress or his daughter to testify, a move experts said was intended to shift focus from a political sex scandal to the nitty-gritty of campaign finance law.
“The defense wasn’t sexy, but the defense doesn’t want sexy. It wants an acquittal,” said Steve Friedland, a professor at Elon University School of Law and a former federal prosecutor.
Experts said Edwards’ bare-bone defense, which lasted just over two days, might be enough to avoid conviction on charges he authorized more than $1 million secretly provided by two donors to help hide an affair with pregnant mistress Rielle Hunter as he sought the White House in 2008.
The prosecution presented nearly three weeks of evidence and testimony from a former Edwards aide and campaign advisers that painted Edwards as a frequent liar, but showed no direct evidence that he intended to break federal campaign finance laws, the experts said.
Many observers believed Edwards would testify so the jury could hear directly from the former senator and trial lawyer who had a reputation for his ability to sway jurors.
But putting Edwards and Hunter on the stand would have exposed the defense to cross-examination about Edwards’ past lies and personal failings.
“The defense may very well have felt that their case was solid enough to go to the jury without the risk of the personal testimony of these witnesses, which would undoubtedly resurrect the salacious details of the affair for the jury,” said Catherine Dunham, another Elon law professor who has been attending the trial.
The defense also elected not to call Edwards’ oldest daughter, Cate, a 30-year-old lawyer who has sat behind her father nearly every day, as a character witness to help humanize him.
Closing arguments are set for today. The jury will likely begin deliberations Friday.