GREENSBORO (AP) — The federal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards is now scheduled to begin in April.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles ruled Thursday in Greensboro that jury selection will begin April 12, with the presentation of evidence to start April 23. Eagles said she expects the trial to last about six weeks.
A planned January start date was delayed while Edwards was treated for a heart condition. Eagles said his health problems are now manageable.
“I’ve given plenty of time for him to finish whatever treatment he needs at this stage,” the judge said of Edwards.
Edwards, who was not present at the hearing, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use payments from two wealthy campaign donors to hide his pregnant mistress during his unsuccessful 2008 run for the White House.
Eagles also heard arguments Thursday over whether expected testimony by former Edwards aide Andrew Young and others should be admissible. Eagles said she would make a final decision on those issues during the trial, but she will allow prosecutors to mention the statements in their opening arguments.
At issue are conversations Young says he had with heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and campaign finance chairman Fred Baron about the nearly $1 million used to care for mistress Rielle Hunter as she carried the candidate’s unborn child.
Defense lawyers said Young’s testimony would amount to hearsay, or out-of-court statements that can’t be verified, since Baron is dead and the 101-year-old Mellon is too frail to testify at trial.
Prosecutors contend that Young’s testimony is permissible under an exemption that allows a member of a conspiracy to testify about statements made by co-conspirators.
Edwards’ defense team argues that no such conspiracy existed because neither Edwards nor Young, who are both lawyers, believed they were violating federal campaign finance statutes. Edwards has also denied knowing about the payments from Mellon and Baron. A conspiracy is defined as two or more people colluding to knowingly commit an illegal act.
Edwards’ lawyers say if the government fails to prove a conspiracy, then the remaining case against their client falls apart.
“Edwards had to know that it was illegal for him to accept the contributions and that he knew about the contributions and their purpose,” Jim Cooney, one of Edwards’ lawyers, said.
Prosecutors contend Young’s testimony and other evidence will prove Edwards had knowledge of the scheme.
However, the government’s star witness is likely to face questions about his honesty on the stand. After news of Hunter’s pregnancy broke in the tabloid press in December 2007, the married Young released a signed affidavit falsely claiming he was the baby’s father.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck