GREENSBORO, N.C. – John Edwards’ campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial Thursday when a jury acquitted him on one of six charges but was unable to decide whether he misused money from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president.
The trial exposed a sordid sex scandal that unfolded while Edwards’ wife was dying of cancer, but prosecutors couldn’t convince jurors that the ex-U.S. senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate masterminded a $1 million cover-up of his affair.
“While I do not believe I did anything illegal, or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong and there is no one else responsible for my sins,” Edwards said on the courthouse steps.
He also said he had hope for his future.
“I don’t think God’s through with me. I really believe he thinks there’s still some good things I can do.”
Federal prosecutors are unlikely to retry the case, a law enforcement official told AP on the condition of anonymity because the decision will undergo review in the coming days.
Edwards would have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges. He did not testify; neither did his former mistress Rielle Hunter nor the two donors whose money was at issue.
Jurors acquitted him on a charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions, involving $375,000 from elderly heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in 2008. He had also been charged with illegally accepting $350,000 from Mellon in 2007, other donations from wealthy Texas attorney Fred Baron, filing a false campaign finance report and conspiracy.
The jurors, who deliberated nine days, did not talk to the media as they left the courthouse.
The case was thrown into confusion earlier Thursday after observers filled the courtroom expecting to hear a verdict on all six counts. Jurors had sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles, reading, “we have finished our deliberations and have arrived at our decision on counts one through six.”
But when the jury came into court, the foreman said jurors only had a decision on one count. Eagles sent jurors back to deliberate. About an hour later, the jury sent another note saying it had exhausted its discussions.
When the not guilty verdict was read, Edwards choked up, put a single finger to his lip and took a moment to compose himself. He turned to his daughter, Cate, in the first row and smiled.
After Eagles declared a mistrial and discharged the jury, Edwards hugged his daughter, his parents and his attorneys. Later, he thanked the jury and his family.
He choked up when talking about the daughter he had with Hunter, Frances Quinn Hunter, “whom I love, more than any of you can ever imagine and I am so close to and so, so grateful for. I am grateful for all of my children.”
The six-week-long trial recounted the most intimate details of Edwards’ affair with Hunter, including reference to a sex tape of the two together that was later ordered destroyed and the drama of Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, tearing off her shirt in front of her husband in a rage about a tabloid report of the affair.
It also featured testimony that sometimes read like political thriller, as aide Andrew Young described meeting Edwards on a secluded road, and Edwards warning him, “you can’t hurt me.”
Prosecutors said Edwards knew of the roughly $1 million being funneled to Young and Hunter and was well aware of the $2,300 legal limit on campaign donations.
Edwards’ attorneys said prosecutors didn’t prove that Edwards knew that taking the money violated campaign finance law. They said he shouldn’t be convicted for being a liar, and even if he did know about some of the money, it was a gift, not a campaign contribution.
“This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony,” attorney Abbe Lowell told the jury. “John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
They also said the money was used to keep the affair hidden from his wife, not to influence his presidential bid.