Hunter Biden convicted on criminal gun charges in US trial

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Hunter Biden was on Tuesday convicted by a Delaware jury on federal gun charges, making him the first child of a US president to be tried and convicted of a crime in a case that has been a distraction for the re-election campaign of his father, Joe Biden.

The verdict came after a week-long trial that laid bare the agony and dysfunction in the Biden family after the president’s oldest son and political heir, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015, and how that tragedy set in motion an unlikely series of events involving a handgun. It comes less than five months before the US election.

It featured testimony about Hunter’s romantic relationship with his widowed sister-in-law, Hallie, after Beau’s death, and their struggles with crack cocaine.

Jurors began their deliberations on Monday afternoon and delivered the verdict shortly after they returned to the courthouse on Tuesday morning. Biden was convicted on all three counts he faced.

At issue was whether Hunter lied about his drug use when buying a .38-calibre Colt Cobra revolver on October 12 2018 from a Wilmington dealer while waiting for his iPhone to be serviced at a nearby store. On a federal background check, Hunter selected “no” when asked whether he used or was addicted to controlled substances.

Prosecutors alleged that was a lie, and showed evidence that included text messages to dealers named “Mookie” and “Q”, testimony from ex-girlfriends and photos of Hunter weighing drugs. In one text message to Hallie, two days after the gun purchase, Hunter said he was “sitting on a car smoking crack”.

They also quoted extensively from his 2021 memoir, Beautiful Things, in which Hunter chronicled his spiral into crack addiction after Beau’s death.   

“If this trial did not establish that Hunter Biden is a crack addict, then no one is a crack addict or drug user,” Derek Hines, a prosecutor, told jurors during closing arguments on Monday as he urged them to convict the president’s son.

Abbe Lowell, Hunter’s lawyer, did not dispute that his client had abused drugs for periods before and after the gun purchase. But he argued that the government had no evidence that Hunter was using drugs at the time in question or that he had knowingly lied on the background check.

In a speech that ran just under 90 minutes, Lowell repeatedly dismissed the case as “conjecture and suspicion” and “a magician’s trick”.

As both sides made their final arguments, a collection of Biden family members looked on, including first lady Jill Biden, Hunter’s sister Ashley, and his aunt, Valerie.

The case has been a political headache for the White House, disclosing some of the family’s most anguished and unsavoury episodes as the president tries to invigorate a sluggish election campaign. There may be more to come, with Hunter Biden facing a second federal criminal trial on tax charges in California in September.

Republicans have sought to use the case as a distraction from the legal travails of Donald Trump, who recently became the first former president to be convicted of a crime for “hush money” payments to a former porn actor.

President Joe Biden has issued public statements in support of Hunter, and family and friends have rallied around him. But he has said he would not pardon his son.

One of the most emotional moments in the trial was Hallie Biden’s testimony, recounting her turbulent romantic relationship with Hunter and their fitful efforts to become sober. She found the gun in his pick-up truck 12 days after he bought it and, in a panic, tossed it in the rubbish bin at a local grocery store. Police eventually recovered it from a man who picked through the rubbish.

If not for that act, Lowell suggested, Hunter might never have been charged. “On October 23, Hallie did something incredibly stupid,” he said, but allowed that “she may have done it for love”.

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