June 14th, 2024

‘No one is above the law,’ prosecutor says as he urges jurors to convict Hunter Biden on gun charges


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

FILE - Hunter Biden arrives to federal court, June 6, 2024, in Wilmington, Del. The criminal trial of President Joe Biden's son heads into the pivotal final stretch Monday, June 11, as the defense argues prosecutors have failed to prove their federal gun case against Hunter Biden. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

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 told jurors the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has suggested that, at the time he bought the gun, Hunter Biden did not consider himself an addict. What he wrote later in his memoir is irrelevant, Lowell argued.

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.

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.

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.

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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