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John Edwards trial: Defense rests without calling former senator or mistress

Defense lawyers concentrated on whether former US Senator John Edwards broke federal campaign finance laws.

By Michael BieseckerAssociated Press / May 16, 2012

John Edwards, center, and his mother Bobbie Edwards, right, and his father Wallace Edwards, left, arrive at a federal courthouse for John Edwards' trial on charges of campaign corruption in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, May 16.

Chuck Burton/AP

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Greensboro, North Carolina

John Edwards' defense team rested Wednesday without calling the two-time Democratic presidential candidate or his one-time mistress to the witness stand, a sign of confidence after presenting little more than two days of testimony and evidence.

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The defense called a series of witnesses aimed at shifting the jury's focus from the lurid details of a political sex scandal to the legal question of whether the Edwards' actions violated federal campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors spent nearly three weeks trying to convince a jury that Edwards masterminded a conspiracy to use nearly $1 million secretly provided by two wealthy donors to help hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he sought the White House in 2008.

Many people watching the case believed Edwards would testify so the jury could hear directly from the former U.S. senator and trial lawyer, who had a reputation for his ability to sway jurors. But putting Edwards on the stand was also a risk: It would have exposed him to withering cross-examination about his past lies and personal failings.

Most experts were convinced calling Hunter to testify would have dredged up more negatives and lies. The defense also elected not to call Edwards' oldest daughter, Cate, who has sat behind Edwards nearly every day of the trial and could have helped humanize him.

At one point during the trial, she ran out of the courtroom in tears during testimony about her cancer-stricken mother confronting her father about his extramarital affair.

The judge told jurors that no more witnesses would be called. It's unclear exactly when closing arguments would start, but most likely Thursday.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to 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.

Edwards 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. He has made no public statements since October, following a pre-trial hearing where a judge refused to throw out the criminal case against him.

"After all these years, I finally get my day in court and people get to hear my side of this, and what actually happened," Edwards said last year on the steps of the federal courthouse in Greensboro. "And what I know with complete and absolute certainty is I didn't violate campaign laws and I never for a second believed I was violating campaign laws."

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