Something strange is happening at the John Edwards trial: All four alternate jurors dressed in red shirts Friday. They each wore bright yellow shirts the day before.
The demeanor of the alternate jurors and their behavior has become the talk of the courthouse. The alternates enter the courtroom each day giggling.
One of the alternates, a young woman, has been spotted smiling at Edwards and flipping her hair in what seems to some to be a flirtatious manner. She has also frequently exchanged smiles with Edwards and nodded enthusiastically during closing arguments last week as the former presidential candidate's lawyer urged them to find his client not guilty.
Meanwhile, the judge on Friday abruptly closed the courtroom to talk to attorneys about an issue with a juror and sent the panel home after six days of deliberations with a stern warning not to talk about the case.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles did not indicate what the problem was after meeting with prosecutors and defense lawyers for about 35 minutes, but when she reopened the courtroom, she admonished the jury before dismissing them until Tuesday.
"All of your deliberations should take place while you are in the jury room and together," Eagles said. "Don't discuss the case in small groups."
Besides the four alternate jurors in red shirts Friday, two of the regular jurors also wore bright red shirts.
Kieran J. Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor who has attended nearly every day of the trial, said he has never seen such unusual behavior as the color-coordinated clothing, or a juror so openly flirtatious with a defendant.
"It's seems harmless when the alternates are doing it, but if the jurors are doing it, that's a concern," said Shanahan, a Raleigh defense attorney. "This case has enough issues already."
The sight of all four alternates in red drew laughter from an audience that had already noted that Edwards had ended his streak of wearing a green tie to court for four straight days. Friday, he was wearing a red tie.
The alternate jurors are not supposed to talk about the case, and they are kept separate from the other jurors during their deliberations. All 16 of the jurors eat lunch together, but the judge has warned them not to deliberate or talk about the case then.
Eagles can dismiss an alternate juror without affecting the trial. But if she dismisses one of the 12 deliberating the case, deliberations would have to start all over with an alternate taking part in the discussions, Shanahan said.
The judge scheduled court to start 30 minutes early Tuesday and said she would possibly take up the juror issue again.
Prosecutors say Edwards masterminded a plan to use money from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Edwards has denied knowing about the money, but his lawyers have argued that even if he did, it was a gift from friends, not a campaign contribution intended to influence the outcome of an election.
Edwards is charged with six felony counts related to illegal campaign contributions. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison, though legal experts say he is likely to serve no more than five years if convicted.
Until Thursday, the jury's requests for evidence focused on letters, notes and voicemail transcripts related to testimony about the $725,000 in checks that Rachel "Bunny" Mellon issued to Bryan Huffman, an interior decorator in Monroe, N.C. Huffman would then endorse the checks and send them to Andrew Young, Edwards' former political aide who was a key witness for prosecutors.
Young's wife, Cheri, then endorsed the checks, using her maiden name, and deposited the money in private bank accounts that she and her husband used.
Thursday, the evidence requested by the jury was related to Fred Baron, the billionaire lawyer from Texas, who provided flights, shopping trips, hotel stays and rent for fancy villas and California mansions as the Youngs and Rielle Hunter, the videographer with whom Edwards had an affair and child, hopscotched across the nation to hide from National Enquirer reporters.