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Edwards campaign finance trial set for April

By Colleen Jenkins

GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - A federal campaign finance case against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will go to trial in April, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles said on Thursday.

The trial previously was delayed due to a "serious" medical condition cited by Edwards.

Jury selection is set to begin in Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 12, and the evidence presentation will start on April 23. Eagles said she expects the trial to last about six weeks.

In December, Edwards' lawyers asked for a two-month postponement of his trial due in part to the medical issue.

The North Carolina Democrat, 58, faces charges of violating campaign finance laws by secretly accepting more than $900,000 from two wealthy supporters to help cover up an affair with a videographer working for his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign.

The woman, Rielle Hunter, later bore his child. Federal prosecutors say Edwards aimed to keep her from the public eye to avoid dooming his political career.

Edwards, a former U.S. senator and John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in 2004, has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count if convicted. He did not attend the court proceedings on Thursday.

At the hearing, Eagles said many of the statements made by the wealthy donors to prosecution witnesses including former Edwards' campaign aide Andrew Young and others would likely be allowed during the trial.

Edwards' defense attorneys argued some of the testimony should not be permitted.

Young was granted immunity by the government, according to court records. One of the donors, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, is elderly and physically unable to attend the trial, and the other, Fred Baron, is deceased, so neither can be cross-examined about their statements by defense attorneys.

In court filings, the defense did not dispute that Edwards and Young initially agreed to hide the truth about Hunter's baby by having Young claim he was the father.

But the defense said no evidence showed that the aide or the donors believed they were committing a crime by giving Young money to pay for Hunter's medical visits, prenatal care and other expenses.

The defense argues the payments were meant to hide the affair from Edwards' wife Elizabeth, who later died of cancer, and were not contributions subject to campaign finance laws.

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Johnston)

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