June 19th, 2024

Jurors in Hunter Biden’s gun trial begin deliberating whether he’s guilty of federal firearm charges

By Claudia Lauer, Michael Kunzelman, Randall Chase And Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press on June 10, 2024.

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – Jurors in Hunter Biden’s gun trial began deliberating Monday to decide whether the president’s son is guilty of federal firearms charges over a revolver he bought when prosecutors say he was addicted to crack cocaine.

Hunter Biden is facing three felony charges stemming from the purchase of the gun in 2018. Prosecutors say he lied on a federal form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

The case has put a spotlight on a turbulent time in Hunter Biden’s life after his brother, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015.

Since the trial began last week in Delaware’s federal court, jurors have heard emotional testimony from Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners, read personal text messages and seen photos of him with drug paraphernalia or partially clothed.

Hunter Biden has publicly detailed his struggle with a crack cocaine addiction before getting sober more than five years ago. But the defense sought to show that that he did not consider himself an “addict” when he filled out the form.

It’s the first of two trials Hunter Biden is facing in the midst of his Democratic father’s reelection campaign. The younger Biden is also charged with failing to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes in a case scheduled to go to trial in September.

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty and has accused the Justice Department of bending to political pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to bring the gun case and the separate tax charges after a deal with prosecutors fell apart last year.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – A prosecutor told jurors Monday that “no one is above the law” as he urged them to convict President Joe Biden’s son Hunter on charges that he lied about his drug use when he bought a gun in 2018.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Leo Wise told jurors to focus on the “overwhelming” evidence against Hunter Biden and pay no mind to members of the president’s family sitting in the courtroom, including first lady Jill Biden.

“All of this is not evidence,” Wise said, extending his hand and directing the jury to look at the gallery. “People sitting in the gallery are not evidence.”

The prosecutor pointed to deeply personal testimony, text messages, photos and Hunter Biden’s own words in his 2021 memoir to argue that the president’s son clearly knew he was in the throes of a crack addiction when he marked on mandatory gun-purchase form that he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

“The evidence was personal. It was ugly, and it was overwhelming,” Wise said. “It was also absolutely necessary.”

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell countered that prosecutors have failed to prove their case. He told jurors the fact that his client has a famous last name does not change the fact that he is presumed innocent – like any other defendant – until proven guilty.

“With my last breath in this case, I ask for the only verdict that will hold the prosecutors to what the law requires of them” – a verdict of not guilty, Lowell said.

The defense has sought to show that that Hunter Biden did not consider himself an “addict” when he filled out the form. His lawyers have suggested he was trying to turn his life around at the time of the gun purchase, having completed a detoxification and rehabilitation program at the end of August 2018.

Lowell said there’s no witness to Hunter Biden’s drug use in the 11 days he had the gun. And he suggested Hunter Biden was lying

about where he was in text messages to his brother Beau’s widow. The prosecution suggests those texts show drug use and drug deals in the days following the gun purchase.

“At any given time, he would lie to her about where he was,” Lowell said.

Closing arguments came shortly after the defense rested its case without calling Hunter Biden to the witness stand. He smiled as he chatted with members of his defense team and flashed a thumbs-up to one of his supporters in the gallery after the final witness – an FBI agent called by prosecutors in their rebuttal case.

The first lady, the president’s brother James and other family members sat in the first row of the Wilmington, Delaware, courtroom. At one point, Hunter Biden leaned over a railing to whisper in his mother’s ear. She has sat through most of the trial, missing only one day last week to attend D-Day anniversary events with the president in France.

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to three felony charges stemming from the October 2018 purchase of a gun he had for about 11 days. He has accused the Justice Department of bending to political pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to bring the gun case and separate tax charges after a deal with prosecutors fell apart last year.

The case has put a spotlight on a turbulent time in Hunter Biden’s life after the death of his brother, Beau, in 2015.

Jurors have heard emotional testimony from Hunter Biden’s former romantic partners and read personal text messages. They’ve seen photos of him holding a crack pipe and partly clothed, and video from his phone of crack cocaine weighed on a scale.

His ex-wife and two former girlfriends testified for prosecutors about his habitual crack use and their failed efforts to help him get clean. One woman, who met Hunter Biden in 2017 at a strip club where she worked, described him smoking crack every 20 minutes or so while she stayed with him at a hotel.

Jurors have heard him describe at length his descent into addiction through audio excerpts played in court of his 2021 memoir, “Beautiful Things.” The book, written after he got sober, covers the period he had the gun but doesn’t mention it specifically.

A key witness for prosecutors was Beau’s widow, Hallie, who had a brief, troubled relationship with Hunter after his brother died of brain cancer. She found the unloaded gun in Hunter’s truck on Oct. 23, 2018, panicked and tossed it into a garbage can at a grocery store in Wilmington, where a man inadvertently fished it out of the trash.

From the time Hunter returned to Delaware from a 2018 trip to California until she threw his gun away, she did not see him using drugs, Hallie told jurors. That time period included the day he bought the weapon. But jurors also saw text messages Hunter sent to Hallie in October 2018 saying he was waiting for a dealer and smoking crack. The first message was sent the day after he bought the gun. The second was sent the following day.

Joe Biden said last week that he would accept the jury’s verdict and has ruled out a presidential pardon for his son. After flying back from France, the president was at his home in Wilmington for the day and was expected in Washington in the evening for a Juneteenth concert. He was scheduled to travel to Italy later this week for the Group of Seven leaders conference.

Last summer, it looked as if Hunter Biden would avoid prosecution in the gun case altogether, but a deal with prosecutors imploded after the judge, who was nominated to the bench by Trump, raised concerns about it. Hunter Biden was subsequently indicted on three felony gun charges. He also faces a trial scheduled for September on felony charges alleging he failed to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes over four years.

If convicted in the gun case, he faces up to 25 years in prison, though first-time offenders do not get anywhere near the maximum, and it’s unclear whether the judge would give him time behind bars.

___

Richer reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Mike Catalini in Wilmington and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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