GREENSBORO, N.C. - John Edwards' team wrapped up its defense Wednesday without calling the former presidential candidate, his mistress, or daughter to testify, a move experts say 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 former federal prosecutor who has attended much of the trial.
Experts said Edwards' bare-bone defense, which lasted just over two days, may be enough to avoid conviction on charges he authorized more than $1 million secretly provided by two wealthy 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 U.S. senator and trial lawyer, who has a reputation for his ability to sway jurors. But putting Edwards and Hunter on the stand would have exposed the defense to withering 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.
At one point during the trial, Cate Edwards ran out of the courtroom in tears during testimony about her cancer-stricken mother, Elizabeth, confronting Edwards about his extramarital affair.
Closing arguments in the case are set for Thursday; U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles gave each side two hours to make their case. The jury will likely begin deliberations Friday.
Edwards is charged with six criminal counts including conspiracy to violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, accepting contributions that exceeded campaign-finance limits, and causing his campaign to file a false financial-disclosure report. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges.
The former Democratic presidential candidate has sat quietly at the defense table throughout his trial, whispering with his lawyers and rarely showing reaction to the often emotional testimony from witnesses who were once among his strongest supporters and closest friends.
In 14 days of testimony, no witness ever said Edwards knew he was violating campaign-finance laws, a key element of criminal intent the government must prove to win a conviction.
"Juries like smoking guns," Friedland said. "There were no smoking guns here."