GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards’ campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial Thursday when jurors acquitted him on one charge and deadlocked on the other five, unable to decide whether he used money from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president and his wife was dying of cancer.
The monthlong trial exposed a sordid sex scandal, but prosecutors couldn’t convince jurors the candidate masterminded a cover-up using about $1 million, and ultimately, jurors decided tawdry didn’t necessarily mean criminal.
“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.
The jury’s decision came on a confusing day. The judge initially called jurors in to read a verdict on all six counts, before learning that they had only agreed to one. About an hour later, the jury sent the note to the judge saying it had exhausted its discussions.
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would retry Edwards on the other counts.
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.
When the judge declared the mistrial and discharged the jury, Edwards hugged his daughter, his parents and his attorneys. Later, he thanked the jury and his family, even choking up when talking about the daughter he had with his mistress Rielle Hunter. He called Francis Quinn Hunter precious “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 jury reached a verdict on count three, which involved $375,000 given by elderly heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in 2008. The other counts dealt with $350,000 Mellon gave in 2007, money from wealthy Texas attorney Fred Baron, filing a false campaign finance report and conspiracy.
Jurors did not talk to the media as they left the courthouse, and prosecutors did not immediately comment.
The trial recounted the most intimate details of Edwards’ affair with Hunter, including reference to a sex tape of the two together that later was destroyed. It also rehashed the elaborate cover-up that involved his most trusted aide, the aide’s wife, and Baron and Mellon.
Edwards was accused of masterminding a plan to use the money to hide Hunter from the media and from his breast cancer-stricken wife. Prosecutors said Edwards knew of the roughly $1 million being funneled to former aide Andrew 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.