June 21st, 2024

Prosecutor says ‘no one is above the law’ as he urges jurors to convict Hunter Biden in gun case

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

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

Prosecutor Leo Wise began his closing argument soon after the defense rested without calling Hunter Biden to the witness stand. Defendants are not required to testify and are often advised by lawyers not to do so because it opens them up to grilling by prosecutors on cross-examination.

The case has laid bare some of the darkest moments of Hunter Biden’s drug-fueled past.

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

Earlier, Hunter Biden 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.

Several family members – including first lady Jill Biden and the president’s brother James – 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 is charged with three felonies stemming from the October 2018 purchase of a gun he had for about 11 days. Prosecutors say he lied on a mandatory gun-purchase form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

He has 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 separate tax charges after a deal with prosecutors fell apart last year.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers last week called three witnesses – including his daughter Naomi – as they tried to show that he did not consider himself an “addict” when he filled out the form.

As court began Monday, the two sides argued over instructions given to the jury before deliberations. Defense attorneys said the proposed jury instructions included “overly expansive and amorphous” definitions of what it means to be a drug “user” and to “possess” a firearm. The defense argued that the language would deny Hunter Biden a fair trial and told the judge that any conviction obtained using those instructions cannot be sustained on appeal.

Both Hunter and the prosecutors scanned the jury as U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika instructed them on the law. Some jurors took notes with yellow pencils, and many followed along with the judge’s instructions, turning pages as she read aloud from the bench.

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

Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction before getting sober more than five years ago are well documented. But defense lawyers argue there’s no evidence he was actually using drugs in the 11 days that he possessed the gun. He had completed a rehab program weeks earlier.

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.

The defense has suggested Hunter Biden had been 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.

“It was only after the gun was thrown away and the ensuing stress … that the government was able to then find the same type of evidence of his use (e.g., photos, use of drug lingo) that he relapsed with drugs,” defense lawyer Abbe Lowell wrote in court papers filed Friday.

Naomi Biden took the stand for the defense Friday, telling jurors about visiting her father while he was at a California rehab center weeks before he bought the gun. She told jurors that he seemed “hopeful” and to be improving, and she told him she was proud of him.

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 Republican former President Donald 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.

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