GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The alternate jurors in former U.S. Senator John Edwards' federal trial learned on Wednesday they could to return to their normal lives as deliberations dragged on about whether the ex-White House hopeful broke the law trying to hide an affair.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles did not officially dismiss the alternates from duty but said they no longer had to report to the courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, each day.
There was no indication that the judge's move meant the main jury panel was any closer to reaching a decision as deliberations headed for a ninth day on Thursday.
The 12-member jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict Edwards, 58, of conspiring to use more than $900,000 from two supporters to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago.
Prosecutors say the one-term senator from North Carolina pursued the money to keep his image intact with voters.
But the defense says the payments were intended as personal gifts, not political contributions, to shield Edwards' wife from learning of Hunter's pregnancy with his child. Elizabeth Edwards, who was battling cancer at the time, died in 2010.
In recent days, jurors have raised scheduling concerns with the judge but have not asked any public questions about the campaign finance case.
Eagles held several private meetings with attorneys from both sides on Wednesday to discuss a note from one of the jurors participating in deliberations. She did not reveal the contents of the note in open court.
After sending the 12 jurors home at the end of the day, Eagles called in the alternate jurors to tell them their tedious wait at the courthouse was over.
She said they remained on standby and would get at least a half-day's notice if needed to take a regular juror's place.
The alternates - one man and three women - drew attention in recent days for wearing color-coordinated shirts. They all wore shades of purple on Wednesday and previously sported matching yellow and red.
"We are going to regret not knowing the color for tomorrow," Eagles said.
The alternates smiled broadly upon hearing the news of their partial release in the trial's sixth week, and at least one of the women could be seen jumping up and down in excitement as they exited the courtroom.
Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, faces possible prison time and fines if found guilty of any of six felony counts. The charges include conspiring to solicit the money, receiving more than the $2,300 allowed from any one donor, and failing to report the payments as contributions.
Reporting By Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Eric Walsh