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April 11, 2012

NC Ready to Flush John

Hometown jury pool sick of bad boy

By TARA PALMERI, New York Post

CHAPEL HILL, NC — For John Edwards, it will be trial by fury.

The disgraced former senator and presidential candidate will have a monumental task finding a jury that doesn’t completely hate his guts as he tries to convince the people of North Carolina that he’s innocent, locals and legal experts told The Post.

Lawyers for Edwards — who was once the Tarheel State’s favorite son — will today begin to weed out hundreds of potential jurors from the region in order create the 12-person panel that will decide his fate.

“He would be guilty!” spat Horace Corbett, 72, when asked for his prediction outside of Elmo’s Diner in neighboring Carrboro, where the notorious adulterer used to be a regular.

“He’s a crook, I’ll tell you that. He took money. He was a crook messing with another woman.”

Most locals said the facts speak for themselves.

“I would probably vote guilty,” Michael McKinney, 48, a Chapel Hill native who has seen Edwards in local bars.

“It just seems like he misappropriated funds and hid a lot of stuff. He made a lot of big mistakes that other people paid for. I don’t think he can win. I think he’s going to go to jail.”

Edwards, 58, faces six counts of violating campaign-finance laws for allegedly funneling $1 million in donations from a pair of wealthy backers to silence Rielle Hunter, 48, who bore his love child.

All this allegedly happened as his wife, Elizabeth, battled — and eventually died of — cancer.

“It seemed like it made sense to root for the guy, and then he’s cheating on his wife and his wife has cancer? Hell no!” seethed Keegan Reynolds, 27, a UNC grad who works as a waiter at Town Hall Grill below Edwards’ former campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill.

Those feelings even extend across political boundaries.

“A lot of people would say he’s a dirtbag, and this is a pretty liberal place,” said Glen Gordon, owner of Tomato Jake’s Pizzeria in Durham, where Edwards and his son Jack chowed down after baseball games.

With neighbors like these, Edwards’ lawyers have their work cut out for them at trial in federal court in Greensboro.

He faces up to 30 years behind bars and $1.5 million in fines if convicted. Opening arguments are slated to start today.

His best bet, said Ken Pangborn, a jury consultant for 37 years, is if the defense team stacks the jury with people who will be sympathetic to Edwards — that is, people just like him.

“If you had middle-aged white women, he’d be in a lot of trouble. They’d want to neuter him,” Pangborn said.

“I’d want to look for a young guy with swagger, a chick magnet, with hair. That’s what I’d ask for,” he said.

“I’d be looking for more blue-collar people. His reputation, such as it is, is fighting for the little people.”

But it seems like the entire town has gone to great lengths to make Edwards a pariah.

Tom Herzog, a partner at Spanky’s in Chapel Hill — a former Edwards hangout — said patrons were so disgusted they demanded that a caricature of Edwards on the restaurant’s wall be taken down.

“We got some protests,” deadpanned Herzog, adding that Edwards hasn’t shown his face much since his wife died. Elizabeth Edwards’ caricature remains on display.

When Elizabeth tossed him from their 10,000-square-foot Chapel Hill mansion, Edwards rented a luxury condo downtown and partied with a much younger crowd at the hipster dive Bowbarr next door.

“He hung out on the couch, shook hands, kept to himself. There was a girl with him, 20-something,” said a Duke law student who saw him at the bar, where PBRs cost $2 and vinyl records line the walls.

Another regular recently spotted him with a bevy of beauties.

“He had three 20-somethings on his arm” that night, the regular said.

And that brazen disrespect of his wife’s memory in her own back yard won’t sit well with many jurors — male or female.

“The problem is that there are so many issues. The lifestyle issue with affairs and babies born out of wedlock. The money he allegedly gave this woman. The fact that his wife was on her deathbed,” said jury consultant Marshall Hennington.

“For jurors, it’s a little bit too much to ask them to be sympathetic to your case. Too much is going on.”

The jury pool, mostly white and split evenly between male and female, was pulled from 24 counties in the central part of the state.

The witness list includes Hunter, and Edward’s daughter Cate Edwards, a newly married graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. It’s unclear whether Edwards will testify in his own defense.

Additional reporting by Andy Soltis and Bob Fredericks

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