Hunter Biden’s gun trial enters its final stretch after deeply personal testimony about his drug use

Jun 10, 2024
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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Jurors in Hunter Biden’s gun trial began deliberating Monday whether the president’s son is guilty of federal firearms charges over a revolver he bought in 2018 when prosecutors say he was addicted to crack cocaine.

He’s charged with three felonies in the case that has laid bare some of the darkest moments of his drug-fueled past. Prosecutors have used testimony from former romantic partners, personal text messages and photos of Hunter Biden with drug paraphernalia or partially clothed to make the case that he broke the law.

“No one is above the law,” prosecutor Leo Wise told jurors in his closing argument as first lady Jill Biden watched from the front row of the Wilmington, Delaware, courtroom.

Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before leaving the courthouse for the day. Deliberations were to resume Tuesday morning.

President Joe Biden’s son 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 bought the gun and checked “no” on the form that asked whether he was “an unlawful user” of drugs or addicted to them.

The case has pitted Hunter Biden against his father’s Justice Department in the midst of the Democratic president’s reelection campaign. The charges were brought by special counsel David Weiss, who was nominated by Republican former President Donald Trump to be U.S. attorney for Delaware and led the yearslong investigation.

Before the case went to the jury, the prosecutor urged 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.

“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.”

Jill Biden and other family members left the courthouse shortly after deliberations began. The first lady sat through most of the trial, missing only one day last week to attend D-Day anniversary events with the president in France. At one point Monday, Hunter Biden leaned over a railing to whisper in his mother’s ear.

Defense attorney Abbe Lowell told jurors in his closing argument that prosecutors had failed to prove their case. Lowell said the his client may have a famous last name, but he is still presumed innocent until proven guilty like any other defendant.

“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.

Hunter Biden’s 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. The defense called three witnesses, including Hunter’s daughter Naomi, who told jurors that her father seemed be improving in the weeks before he bought the gun.

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 sign to a supporter in the gallery after the final witness — an FBI agent called by prosecutors in their rebuttal case.

The trial has put a spotlight on a turbulent time in Hunter Biden’s life after the 2015 death of his brother, Beau, from brain cancer. The proceedings have played out in the president’s home state, where Hunter Biden grew up and where the family is deeply established. Joe Biden spent 36 years as a senator in Delaware, commuting daily to Washington, and Beau Biden was the state’s attorney general.

Hunter Biden’s 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 also 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’s death. 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 seeking recyclables inadvertently fished it out of the trash.

The prosecutor pointed to text messages he said show Hunter trying to make drug deals in the days around the gun purchase. In one message, Hunter told Hallie he was smoking crack. “That’s my truth,” Hunter wrote.

“Take the defendant’s word for it. That’s his truth,” Wise said. He urged jurors to reject the defense’s suggestion that Hunter did not really mean what he was texting at the time and was simply trying to avoid being with Hallie.

“You don’t leave your common sense behind when you come into that jury box,” Wise said.

The defense told jurors that there was no actual witness to drug use by Hunter during the 11 days that he had the gun. Lowell also sought to discredit testimony from Hallie and another ex-girlfriend. He told jurors to consider their testimony “with great care and caution,” noting that they were given immunity agreements in exchange for taking the witness stand for prosecutors.

Joe Biden said last week that he would accept the jury’s verdict and 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 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.

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

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