Sequestered At The Edwards Trial, And I'm Not On The Jury

May 24, 2012
Originally published on May 24, 2012 11:24 am

One day last week, I was entering the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., where John Edwards is on trial, when a U.S. marshal took my local newspaper. A moment later, he told ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff to hand over his morning paper.

"We can't have newspapers?" I asked.

"You guys know the rules," the smiling marshal said.

Our copies of the Winston-Salem Journal and The Wall Street Journal were promptly spiked in the trash can. The funny thing is, we did know the rules, and for the previous 3 ½ weeks had been reading our newspapers in the hallway and disposing of them before entering the courtroom.

"We had to pick up some newspapers yesterday," the marshal continued, "so they're not allowed anymore."

Ah, the new rules.

Each weekday morning for the past five weeks, after taking off my shoes and watch, passing through the metal detector and waiting in line, I've entered the small — often cramped — windowless federal courtroom in Greensboro.

Thursday marks Day 24 of the trial of Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate facing felony charges related to campaign donations he allegedly used to hide his pregnant mistress.

And it could be a while before the jury reaches a decision. Just before lunch on this, the fifth day of deliberations, jurors sent the judge a note asking for 20 additional pieces of evidence to help in deliberations.

Judge Catherine Eagles then brought the jury of eight men and four women into the courtroom: "I can just send back everything," she told them. "Would you like me to send back all of the exhibits?"

As several of the jurors nodded, the man who has been speaking on behalf of the group said, "Sounds like a great idea." There are about 500 pieces of evidence in total.

Most of the media contingent is hoping a verdict comes before the holiday weekend, although none of us really has a clue as to when the jury will actually render its decision. My prediction was three hours or three weeks, which puts me on the hook for June 8 (I hope I'm wrong).

So after 17 days of testimony ranging in nature from salacious to personal to nap inducing — at least for a couple of jurors — we wait.

And we wait without our iPhones, Droids, wiki apps or Pandora.

Computers are banned from the courtroom. So, too, are any sort of recording devices, camera phones and food.

Gum is a no-no, and I've cautiously (don't tell anyone) popped in a few cough drops, hoping to avoid a contempt-of-court charge.

Experienced court reporters from the national media have described the lack of communication and accommodations from the court as "arbitrary," "shameful" and "silly." It has seemed occasionally petty and too often inconsistent.

As for the meatier stuff: Some of the evidence introduced in testimony has been posted to the court website and is accessible to the public.

But that's only the written documents. All voice mails and any videos that we heard in court are nowhere to be found, as of yet.

Judge Eagles indicated weeks ago she would "deal with" voice mail and videos later on, but had some reservations about posting them to the Web. She hasn't given any indication if she will release the juror names either.

On Wednesday, a group of 10 media outlets filed a joint motion requesting information on the jurors once the trial ends.

Just when it ends is uncertain. The good news is that since the jury began deciphering six counts of alleged campaign finance violations last Friday — and are no longer physically in the courtroom — we can read those newspapers again.

Jeff Tiberii is a reporter with North Carolina Public Radio.

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