The Edwards jury, however, pushed misbehavior beyond the pale. The media story of the Edwards "verdict" is a sham concocted to shield the public from disgust and anger, and the judicial system from shame and reform. Those who know me even remotely understand that I am as ready as the next guy to assist in advancing a sham. This Edwards sham, however, is so offensive that I broke habit, and I'll have you know, I am alone among my journalistic colleagues to refuse. In addition, I have a grudge to settle with the judiciary, a grudge approximately 235 parking tickets long. Therefore, exclusively here today, is the sordid true story of the Edwards "verdict."
I was there, in Greensboro, in the beauty that is North Carolina, my pencil, my composition book, at the ready. Old school style. Read on.
The text below was recorded by your journalist on May 31, 2012, in the Federal Courthouse, Greensboro, North Carolina. The result was embargoed until Friday, June 2nd, 11:00 p.m., via my agreement with the Administrative Office of the Federal Judiciary, the Edwards trial jurors, and the just constituted 2012 John Edwards for Senate campaign.
Today, John Edwards will walk to freedom from the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. This will be a media event. When he does walk, however, it will not be as reported in newscasts. His stroll into the North Carolina sunshine will not be courtesy of the jury that had been deadlocked over his guilt or innocence for more than a week. It was not on task, or even in the jury room, or the courtroom. I am reporting exclusively here today that in a dramatic turnabout this morning, federal judge Catherine C. Eagles summarily dismissed the entire Edwards trial jury. Here is my exclusive.
This shocking denouement befell a trial troubled by jury problems. Just two days ago, and after nearly eight unproductive days of jury deliberations, Judge Eagles sent four alternate jurors home for their antics, although, unlike her actions today, she did not dismiss them. This, though, unusual as it was, would later seem like a lame warm-up act to to the burlesque that was to arrive on stage this morning.
At precisely 10:12 a.m., Judge Eagles called the court to order and was handed a message from the jury room, likely another request for some evidentiary material. Ordinary court business. Judge Eagles, however, seemed to blanch as she read the request. Her head dropped a bit, chin to sternum. She blinked rapidly. Then, a deep sigh. Turning to the stouthearted bailiff, she asked that the jury be brought to the courtroom immediately, and to see to it that the courtroom doors were locked.
As the jury filed in a few minutes later, we in the gallery - spectators and press alike - felt a palpable sense of drama, of portent. Locked doors? Judge Eagles stared at each juror in turn, stone faced with knotted brow, clearly suppressing outrage. Immediately upon their seating in the jury box, the twelve heard this,
"I am summarily and unalterably dismissing the entire jury in this action."Spectators, defense mouthpieces, and prosecutors rose as one, a hubbub ensued. Press types called out for the doors to be opened so they might file reports. Judge Eagles abruptly waved these interruptions aside, then loudly ordered all to sit. The bailiff advanced. Police officers glared. The court reporter sneered.
Order restored, our indignant judge continued addressing the jury, her voice ever rising in anger:
"I am abundantly aware of the seriousness of what I have decided to do, and the cost to the taxpayers for what will follow. Yet, greater principles are at stake here. To move directly to the matter, I am dismissing this jury for excessive, unrelenting, and frankly obscene flirtation directed at defendant Edwards during the trial portion of this proceeding and now, it seems, during their deliberations."She went on and chided the jury, labeling their behavior during trial
"an outrageous affront to the judicial system. During trial I witnessed jurors winking, smiling suggestively, and displaying their tongues in ways clearly intended to arouse or attract Mr. Edwards. One juror regularly mouthed the phrase "baby, oh baby" whenever the defendant looked toward him. Perhaps most blatant of all, jurors - women and men both - frequently cupped their breasts and then rhythmically moved them in the defendant's direction."
Judge Eagles' decision to dismiss the jury after it had been engaged in nearly 50 hours of deliberation out of sight and visual contact with Mr. Edwards was akin to an electric shock to us all. Why now? Why at all?
Judge Eagles then turned away from the jurors and addressed the attorneys, indicating that during the past week she had been "vexed by unbidden memories of jurors actively flirting" with Mr. Edwards. She continued:
"Indeed, a certain amount of courting is to be expected when in the presence of a defendant so handsome, well groomed, and sexually titillating. I allowed jurors ample latitude to engage in coquetry. However, in fairness to the prosecution, last evening I determined to forbid further displays of flirtatious behavior, either during delivery of their verdicts, or through improper requests to me for information during their deliberations. Only this, I believed , would prevent a travesty of justice."Judge Eagles then paused and lifted the jury request document that she had been given at the beginning of the day. She stared at the jury with a classic “what were you thinking?” visage normally reserved for beer soaked teenagers found asleep in a place of worship. Looking out at the courtroom, Eagles said, ”Here, for all to now hear, is the text of the jury's latest request for information to assist them in their discussions."
'Your Honor, The jury requests that we be permitted to physically examine defendant Edwards to determine his capacity to have committed the crimes with which he is charged. We estimate that a top to bottom survey will require defendant Edwards to remain in our possession for an uninterrupted 24 hour period. This will allow each juror two hours to conduct his or her thorough inspection of defendant. We would also appreciate a case of white wine, aromatic candles, a jacuzzi bathtub, and a small jazz ensemble.'"This screed," pointed out Judge Eagles, "was not merely signed by the foreman, but by each jury member, many signatures underscored."
Our disbelieving and disheartened magistrate looked again at the jurors, and concluded with this:
"This outrageous jury request, surely unprecedented in American - if not French - legal history is light years beyond any pale that any court could imagine. One cannot make these things up. Obviously, your request is denied.”At this, the jury was dumbfounded, miffed, in fact. A few jurors rose, desperate with disappointment, their hands in the air seeking her Honor's attention, questions on their lips. And that was where they were to remain; Judge Eagles was having none of that.
She then dismissed twelve crestfallen jurors with a wave of the hand. As if to ratify Judge Eagles' words, however, nine of twelve jurors tossed their house keys towards the defense table as they exited the courtroom.
With the jury gone and sequestered indefinitely in a courthouse conference room, Judge Eagles called for order in a court demonstrably disorderly, shock and awe reigning. Order restored, she asked the bailiff to contact the four alternate jurors who had been sent home last Wednesday/ Overruling all attorney objections, she directed the alternate jurors present in the courtroom to retire to the jury room to deliberate John Edwards' fate.
In quick succession all twelve heretofore alternate jurors were assembled and at work. Within fifteen minutes this unsullied (for the most part) fledgling jury returned their verdict: not guilty on count three and hopelessly unable to reach a conclusion on the other five charges. When queried by her Honor, their foreman reported,
“We are just sick and tired of this circus. Literally, cannot take another minute of it. Can you?”Judge Eagles nodded in a "yes, yes, yes" manner, declared a mistrial on the remaining counts, yelled “Sit down and shut up!” at the lawyers, and ordered the courtroom doors unlocked. She then stood, turned to her right with military precision, and literally marched out of court to the safety and blessed silence of her chambers.
As for appealing the verdict or retrying Edwards on other charges, an assistant prosecutor admitted to me,
"Look, the guy is so good looking, so charming, so seemingly sincere . . . we now believe it impossible to overcome that effect on jurors regardless of the evidence. In fact, we believe Mr. Edwards can get away with anything he desires. He's a man who no jury would ever convict."Spectators, one and all, however, expressed the hope that Mr. Edwards will again be put on trial, for the five "mistrialed" campaign finance charges, of for anything else at all. One spectator, an 88 year old grandmother, and thematically representative of all who I spoke with, told me,
"That Edwards, he's a good time as a defendant. Most are so unattractive, bad smiles, unruly hair. But Edwards?Great entertainment. To tell the truth, I flirted with him whenever I caught an eye. Hope to see him in that role again soon."Thus is the tale of the jury that couldn't and the judge who could.
So many questions remain. In light of this kind of juror behavior, will the American jury system survive? Ought the federal judiciary provide approved flirting guidelines for the courtroom entertainment industry? Will this help promote justice, or television ratings? Both? Has it ever? Was it ever? If it was, will it ever be again? And when? Furthermore, why? We'll see.
Follow the issue here, with me, your faithful reporter and editor.
You can do so by subscribing or having posts delivered by email
(see email box at upper left of the page).