updated 05/14/2012 AT 3:30 PM ET
•originally published 05/14/2012 AT 3:05 PM ET
She’s the witness everyone is anxiously awaiting at the John Edwards trial. The courtroom is packed daily with anticipation, with talk of setting up an overflow room for extra reporters if she appears.
Rielle Hunter, the mistress with whom Edwards has a child, has been at the center of his campaign corruption trial, but so far has been an invisible presence – only spoken about by other witnesses.
As the defense for former presidential candidate begins its case, lawyers are faced with whether to call Hunter as a witness, a decision both fraught with risk but offering a potential windfall.
Immunity from Prosecution
Hunter, 48, gave secret grand jury testimony and has been granted immunity at the trial in federal court in Greensboro, N.C.
She lives 90 miles away in Charlotte, N.C., with their 4-year-old daughter Quinn, but is expected to arrive in town later this week in case she’s called to the stand.
Her appearance would create a dramatic scene in a trial that has not lacked fireworks. She not only would be face-to-face with Edwards, but potentially face members of his family. His adult daughter Cate and his parents have been in the courtroom each day.
When Edwards, 58, admitted paternity of Quinn, a financial agreement was worked out. Edwards had been visiting Hunter and Quinn a few times a week, but was advised against seeing her during the trial.
The fact that the prosecution didn’t call Hunter suggests that she could help Edwards, potentially poking holes in the testimony by the government’s star witness, former aide Andrew Young.
Young testified that Edwards knew about the plan to get money from wealthy supporters to help hide his then-pregnant mistress from the public and late-wife Elizabeth, who died of cancer in 2010.
Hunter could testify about what Edwards told her he knew, and when he knew it. But Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor who is watching the case closely, notes, “The defense runs the risk of bringing up all the negatives: the affair, the betrayal, the denials and the wife dying of cancer.”
“Unless she has really potent evidence,” adds Shanahan, “I think the defense is better off not calling her,” he says.
The defense case is expected to last five or six days. Edwards could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all charges.