Jurors in the John Edwards trial may have expected to be inundated with testimony about betrayal and disappointment, but they could hardly have predicted that they would be immersed in a love-drenched soap opera. Here, for instance, is a transcript of a voicemail from John Edwards to his campaign aide, Andrew Young, that was entered into evidence during Mr. Young’s testimony “I just wanted you to hear that and to once again to tell you I love you… uhh, I really love you Andrew.” Mr. Young was then asked “You said you actually fell in love with Mr. Edwards?” “We all did,” the aide answered.
This testimony was followed by Young’s long-suffering wife Cheri complaining of how her husband’s relationship with Mr. Edwards replaced hers, saying “It was maddening to me. Andrew had no responsibilities at home.”
All of this swirled around the central story of the case – Mr. Edwards had an extra-marital affair and is alleged to have illegally used campaign funds to hide it. Edwards’ daughter sits with him each day in court hearing all of it, except for the time that she left the courtroom in tears amid testimony of her late mother’s emotional reaction to learning of his repeated marital betrayal.
The prosecutor entered this trial needing to prove that the campaign finance charges have merit, and that the case is not just riding on the emotional aspects of Mr. Edwards’ messy family life. With the heavy soap opera aspects of the case coming to the fore, how will the jurors respond? On the one hand, they may be turned off to the point that they reject the case as a whole, meaning that they would lean toward acquittal. Alternately, they could get swept up in the drama and choose sides (either one) based on the surging emotional tides.
Far from turning down the emotional aspects of the case, the Edwards defense team has decided to amplify them. Instead of fighting against the prosecution’s preferred context, they are embracing it and furthering it, riding the wave that the prosecution has set in motion.
This is a risky, counter-intuitive strategy. It would have been expected that the defense would try to tell the jury to ignore all of the drama and focus on the campaign finance issues only, but they are taking the opposite tack. Clearly, they are hoping for a jury to dismiss the whole tawdry melodrama and the charges with it. It is a bold endeavor to embrace and extend the opposing side’s narrative, and one that will be eagerly watched by trial strategists.