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People Top 5
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- June 18, 2012
- Vol. 77
- No. 25
John Edwards: Free, But Now What?
A Hung Jury Keeps Him Out of Jail as Edwards Struggles to Heal the Damage He's Inflicted on His Family
His legal woes may be behind him for now-experts agree it's unlikely the government will retry the case involving wealthy donors' gifts-but many people, most significantly Edwards's own children, remain caught up in the mess for which the former senator is now taking public responsibility.
"Each one has suffered in their own way," a source close to the family says of Jack, 12, Emma Claire, 14, and Cate, 30. The youngest two, says John's friend, have been in counseling since before the trial. Adds former nanny Heather North McGraw: "These children have endured more tragedy than many people see in a lifetime. This is more than a headline to them. These events will forever shape them."
For the last year, since Edwards was first charged, the prospect of his serving a prison term terrified his children, who had already suffered the trauma of losing their mother, Elizabeth, to cancer in December 2010. Emma Claire, says the friend, asked Edwards directly: " 'Mom's dead, and if you go away, what's going to happen to us?'"
Edwards, according to the same friend, didn't discuss a contingency plan with the children. But Cate, who had just gotten married in October and was living in Washington, D.C., privately said she would move back to Chapel Hill with her husband to raise her siblings. For his part, Edwards reportedly told the friend, "I'm not going to sit down and have that conversation until I have to."
During the trial, with Cate at his side, he relied on other parents to ferry the kids to school. "John's been very wrapped up in his own mess, so he's there, but not there," says another source close to the kids. "He's lucky Elizabeth taught them to be resilient." Still, under extreme stress, "both Jack and Emma Claire missed school and ball games," says the Edwards friend. And Emma Claire occasionally shares her emotions on Twitter: "CONGRATS TO MY DADDY ON BEING FOUND INNOCENT, so glad this is finally over. Love you dad(:" Then shortly after, to no one in particular: "Don't make jokes about my father you idiot."
She and the rest of the family may have to bear up a bit longer, as her father's former mistress, Rielle Hunter, 48, is publishing a memoir this month (see box). While Edwards visits Quinn, his 4-year-old daughter with Hunter, at least once a week, those familiar with the arrangement don't foresee a merging of the families. "I don't believe Jack and Emma Claire are in an emotional situation where they can deal with that," says the friend. Instead, Edwards is trying to return them to normalcy, sending them to a familiar summer camp.
Also recovering are his parents, Bobbie, 78, and Wallace, 80. "Poor Mrs. Edwards would curl up in a ball in a chair in the corner, reading the Bible, unable to do anything else," said the source close to the family.
Cate Edwards left town after the verdict to attend her Princeton reunion and intends to return soon to D.C. "Here's hoping the world becomes upright again," she wrote on Twitter.
As for Edwards, once a successful trial attorney, he hopes to start a law firm in New York and Washington, D.C. with two other "legal heavyweights," says his friend. "His plan is to raise a bunch of money and give half of it away." Adds the family source: "He knows he'll never be fully vindicated." But he has faith that he can redeem himself. "I don't think God's through with me," Edwards said outside the courthouse. "I really believe He thinks there's still some good things I can do."
- With Sandra Sobieraj Westfall,
- Liz McNeil,
- Wendy Grossman Kantor.
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