John Edwards arrives at the federal courthouse here each morning somehow sporting that same fresh look with which he bounded onto the national political stage.
Trim and polished in his business suits and crisp shirts, he still flashes a bright smile to greeters. And the hair -- almost as famous now as the man himself -- is still thick, a shiny brown and always in place.
That groomed, confident image for a man so battered can be unsettling to onlookers on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse and spectators in the courtroom.
The former U.S. senator, once the darling and rising star of the Democratic Party, has lost his wife to cancer, his reputation to his unfaithfulness and his political future to a past that won't fade with time.
Now the trial lawyer who made millions with his powerful sway over juries is taking a gamble -- instead of a plea deal -- on moving one more group of 12, this time hoping to persuade the jurors who will decide his criminal case not to add freedom to his list of losses.
After three weeks, Edwards' chances of winning in a criminal case like no other remain alive. The defense team, which has been poking holes in the government's case, will begin Monday to call their own witnesses, holding out the possibility that Edwards will step up to the stand to provide his account of what he did and didn't know, and what he did and didn't do.
The government rested its case Thursday with a videotape of a 2008 TV interview with ABC's Bob Woodruff in which Edwards, who has changed little physically in the last four years, smiles, then lies about being the father of the daughter born to him and Rielle Hunter, the former campaign videographer at the heart of the six-count indictment.
The government must not only convince jurors that Edwards, 58, broke campaign finance laws. The prosecutors must also show the 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful knew he was breaking the regulations when others took money from two billionaire supporters to hide his pregnant mistress.
The testimony thus far has ranged from appalling to amusing, with a parade of 24 witnesses and cast of intriguing characters.
But on the key point of intent, lawyers watching the trial from inside the courtroom say the government has failed to deliver a direct hit.
"Juries like smoking guns, and there is no smoking gun here," said Steven Friedland, an Elon University law professor and former federal prosecutor who has been inside the courtroom for much of the trial.
Edwards, himself, was heard in court last week uttering to his lawyers "that's their case?" at the close of a day in which two key witnesses testified he was aware his Texas lawyer friend, Fred Baron, a billionaire who died in October 2008, had provided support. But neither witness could establish under cross-examination that Edwards or Baron, a finance chairman of the 2008 presidential campaign, thought the money should be classified as a campaign expense subject to federal caps and public reporting.
That ultimately is a question of law, that, depending how the jury rules, could be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals or ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.
Public scourging for all
As the trial opened with a cadre of national and international media closely watching, the Washington Post offered this April 23 headline: "The
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