Thursday, May 31, 2012

Goodbye and Good Luck

Five years ago, I was a John Edwards supporter.

I had one of his bumper stickers on my vehicle, and I believed he was the best hope for the country.

The economic meltdown hadn't happened yet, and my assessment at that time, in the summer of 2007, was that the American public simply wasn't ready to elect a black president — or a female president.

I was a Democrat at the time, and I did not think either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton was the answer for the nation.

I believed the time would come for that, but the time wasn't right. I still didn't think the time was right when the meltdown happened in the autumn of 2008, and the major parties had already nominated Obama and John McCain.

That meltdown completely changed the nature of the 2008 campaign — and I think it is clear that it will heavily influence the 2012 campaign as well. But that is another story.

The story today is about Edwards' acquittal on one count and the jury's deadlock on the other counts in his corruption trial in Greensboro, N.C.

Much of the post–trial discussion has concerned whether the prosecution will attempt to re–try Edwards on the other five counts.

I do not think that is going to happen. I mean, the prosecution spent a lot of money on this trial and came away empty–handed. Many of the jurors probably will be interviewed now, and the weaknesses of the case will be revealed — which could, conceivably, lead prosecutors to pursue a conviction again with a new strategy.

But a Raleigh defense attorney told the Greensboro News–Record that he, too, thinks that is unlikely — and for the same reason as I do.

"They got their best witnesses, their best evidence and the judge ruled in their favor on all major evidentiary issues," he said. "The jury didn't believe them."

The jurors clearly didn't go for the case presented on the third count, which dealt with money that was given to the campaign by a wealthy heiress. It was the only one on which they all agreed.

And the prosecution's case on that count was probably the strongest one it had — which really isn't saying much. I'm no lawyer, and I didn't watch and/or read every report on this case, but I never felt the prosecution established its case. And I'm dubious that it will be able to do so in a do–over.

When I was a reporter covering trials in the county where I lived and worked, I learned a lot about the judicial system, lessons that seem to be repeated over and over again.

One lesson I learned was that there is no reliable way to predict what a jury will do. Don't believe me? Ask the experts who believed O.J. would be convicted of a double homicide or who were convinced that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter and there was no way she would escape the long arm of the law.

But both were acquitted.

And there are other such cases, some that only get local attention and are not the subjects of national attention but are still astonishing when they result in unanticipated verdicts.

Veteran court watchers look at jurors' body language during testimony and closing arguments and try to interpret what they are thinking, whether they have made up their minds. And I remember that such veterans did not hesitate to tell me, when I was a reporter, what they thought a quick verdict meant or what one that took several days' worth of deliberations to reach meant.

But, at best, their conclusions were and are only educated guesses.

Prosecutors may one day bring Edwards before a new jury and charge him with the remaining counts, but don't look for that right away. Their gun is out of bullets and, unless they come up with a new bullet that is sure to bring down their prey, I don't expect to see him in court on these charges again.

Another thought struck me as I watched Edwards' press conference this afternoon.

He said all the right things. His problems were of his own doing, he said, no one else's. In spite of that, though, God is not finished with him yet, he said. "I really believe he thinks there's still some good things I can do."

Perhaps Edwards is right. Perhaps God is not finished with him.

But I am.

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