John Edwards' children going through their own trial

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:10 PM

Anne Blythe

John Edwards has been described many ways throughout his trial, as a philandering husband, an opportunistic political climber and an egotistical, tragic character.

But he also is a single father of two school-aged children who lost their mother to cancer almost 18 months ago. He has a grown daughter who has not only lost her mother but also was a teenager when her brother, Wade, was killed in a car wreck at age 16.

Edwards' attorneys say he is also involved in the life of the 4-year-old daughter he had with his former mistress, Rielle Hunter. They say Edwards routinely visits the preschooler, who lives with her mother in Charlotte.

As the high-profile defendant awaits a verdict, the children whose lives have been forever changed by his misadventures could have their lives further disrupted by a conviction. Edwards is charged with six counts related to violating campaign finance laws to hide his affair during his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell mentioned Edwards' children in his closing argument.

Emma Claire and Jack are middle-schoolers who live with their dad in the rambling house outside Chapel Hill that their mother designed when his presidential hopes were still alive. He attends their ballgames and after-school activities, friends say, and before the trial was driving them to school each morning.

Edwards, Lowell said, could "hopefully" be the same kind of father for Frances Quinn, his 4-year-old daughter.

Of the children, Cate Edwards, is more than the big sister. She has taken a public role beside her father, standing as a symbol of loyalty as he copes with the consequences of betrayal.

She has entered and exited the federal courthouse here for the past three weeks, undaunted by the photographers and videographers. A 30-year-old Harvard law school graduate, she steps along quickly and staunchly beside her father, the man who led the family to the national political stage as a U.S. senator and then a two-time Democratic presidential contender and a 2004 vice presidential nominee.

Cate Edwards was married in October to Trevor Upham, a doctor doing a surgery fellowship at Georgetown University whom she met while they both were students at Princeton University. She has been in the courtroom for most of the testimony in her father's trial.

She is polite to reporters and news crews, and engages warmly with spectators and cancer survivors who approach her during breaks to talk about her mother, Elizabeth, who died of cancer in December 2010. Throughout the trial, she often twisted her long, brown hair during particularly tense or tedious segments of testimony.

Once she left the courtroom abruptly during a break in the testimony, tears welling in her eyes, after her father leaned over the rail, motioned her close, and told her in an audible whisper that he did not know what was coming next.

For the most part, though, Cate Edwards sat quietly behind her father as witness after witness recounted seamy details of his extramarital relationship and the volatile arguments between her parents.

She nodded or gave a small wave to some of the campaign staffers as they exited the courtroom after their testimony. She hugged others who were close to her mother.

She has been involved in huddles with the team of lawyers advising her father, and takes a place beside her grandparents whenever the judge calls both sides into the wood-paneled courtroom to respond to a jury question or end proceedings for the day.

In 2011, Cate Edwards left the law firm where she worked to run the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation.

She wrote in a Glamour Magazine essay published that year that it was important to her to offer a hand to those in need.

"Whenever I went to the doctor as a child, I insisted on having my mom in the room, sitting next to me," Cate Edwards wrote. "Any time I got a shot, Mom would tell me, 'Squeeze my hand as hard as it hurts.' Last autumn, in a hospital room in North Carolina, I finally had a chance to return that favor. It was then I realized the importance of having someone's hand to hold, and the fact that every once in a while, it's important to be the hand that gets squeezed."

John Edwards, according to testimony that made him bury his face in his hand and dab at his moistened eyes, was with Elizabeth Edwards in her last days, hours and minutes, often holding her hand and renewing a bridge to a family life that endures in her absence.

The daughter the two raised, the young woman who portrays style and grace after losing her elder brother and her mother, has extended her hand to her surviving parent throughout one of the toughest trials of his life.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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