A former aide to John Edwards avoided jail again Friday in a dispute over a tape that allegedly shows the past presidential candidate and his lover in a sexual encounter.
Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones ruled that Andrew Young was not in contempt of court for his accounting of how he handled items that Edwards mistress Rielle Hunter is seeking. The North Carolina judge had threatened to jail Young earlier this week and said he was troubled by a series of conflicting statements that Young has made under oath.
Jones said he wasn't sure if Young and his wife had purposely disobeyed his orders.
"You know and God knows, but I don't know," he said. The judge said he is still considering whether to refer the case to the district attorney for a perjury probe and warned the Youngs that they would face future troubles if they're lying now.
"Its tempting, because I have the authority, to lock you up — to see what would happen, to sweat it out so to speak," Jones said.
Hunter has sued Young for invasion of privacy, seeking the return of items including the tape. Her attorneys accused Young of repeated lies, while Young's attorneys passed off the discrepancies as memory lapses.
"I don't think anyone could show an intentional lie here," said an attorney for Young, Robert Elliot.
'They started this fight'
Friday's hearing came three days after Jones declared that Young would go to jail for contempt before his attorneys successfully pleaded for more time to account for his statements. He again faced a contentious line of questioning on the stand Friday, acknowledging later he was "scared," and gave hugs to his family members "just in case" before the judge's decision.
"Obviously, I'm glad to be going home to my family," he said.
One discrepancy that concerned Jones was that Young initially said at least two copies of the tape were in a safety deposit box. There was actually only one copy of the tape there, but he found another one in his home and acknowledged that he'd recently shown it to ABC News.
He also faced a scolding after a freelance journalist, Robert Draper, said in an affidavit that Young had shown him the sex tape. Draper had not been previously mentioned even though Young had been asked who had seen the video. Young said he and Draper had been drinking on the night in question and he didn't remember showing Draper the tape.
Hunter's attorneys also pressed Young to surrender the tape now in court custody, which would end the debate about who has rights to it. Young lashed out at them, saying Hunter, John Edwards and his estranged wife, Elizabeth Edwards, have destroyed his family's life by calling him a liar and a thief.
"If your client is willing to take back — and if John Edwards is willing to take back — the fact that they called me a liar, I will be glad to walk away," he said. "They started this fight."