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Jury to begin deliberating in Edwards trial

Posted at 6:01 PM, May 17, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-17 18:01:43-04

By the CNN Wire Staff

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (CNN) – Closing arguments concluded Thursday afternoon in the corruption trial of John Edwards, after his defense team rested its case without calling the former Democratic presidential candidate’s ex-mistress to testify.

The jury was being read instructions in advance of commencing its deliberations.

Attorneys for Edwards also chose not to call his eldest daughter, Cate, and prosecution star witness Andrew Young, a former Edwards campaign aide, before wrapping up their case Wednesday.

The government alleges Edwards “knowingly and willingly” accepted large amounts of money from wealthy campaign donors Fred Baron and Rachel Melon to hide former mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy in an effort to remain a viable candidate in his 2008 presidential campaign.

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the defense team’s failure to call more witnesses did not necessarily signify anything.

“The defense clearly feels that its core argument is already before the jurors — which is that, whatever you think of Edwards as a human being, there is no way that he regarded the payments by Baron and Mellon as campaign contributions,” Toobin said.

The former U.S. senator’s trial is under way in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is charged with six counts of illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and falsifying documents. The trial is in its fourth week. If found guilty on all charges, Edwards would face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Hunter lives a distance from Edwards in North Carolina. However, they both parent their 4-year-old daughter.

A friend and adviser to Edwards testified Tuesday that the candidate appeared surprised to learn that Mellon, an elderly heiress, had sent money that ended up going to Hunter and Young.

The defense, which began its case Monday, has argued that Young largely used the money for his own personal gain, while also paying for Hunter’s medical expenses during her pregnancy in an effort to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife. Donations for that purpose, the Edwards team has argued, cannot be considered in violation of campaign finance laws.

CNN’s Raelyn Johnson, Adam Reiss, Joe Johns and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.