John Edwards was found not guilty on one felony charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.
The jury was deadlocked on the other five felony charges, provoking the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts. The prosecution could still choose to retry Edwards on those counts, but most legal experts think this is unlikely due to the complexity of the case, the cost to litigate and the small amount of jail time that would come with a conviction.
Edwards spoke briefly after the verdict but didn’t take questions. He thanked the jurors for their “hard work and their diligence,” and choked up while speaking about his parents and children.
“I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and from my voice,” he said on the courthouse steps. “I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong and there is no one else responsible for my sins. No one who came into court and testified is responsible…I am responsible…if I want to find the person accountable for my sins, all I have to do is look in the mirror.”
Edwards mentioned his ex-wife, Elizabeth, only once to say how much his children love and miss her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while he was a vice presidential candidate in 2004 and died in late 2010.
Edwards said he loves Quinn, the daughter he had with mistress Rielle Hunter, "more than any of you could ever imagine."
Edwards said he wanted to dedicate his life going forward to helping need children at home and abroad.
The news comes after a chaotic day of jury deliberations in Greensboro, N.C. The jury initially notified the judge that it had reached a verdict, but returned with a verdict on only one of the six felony charges the former Democratic senator faced, prompting the judge to send the jury back into deliberations.
At the time, the judge would not divulge the jury’s findings on the third felony count against Edwards, and the scene spurred confusion among court watchers who were expecting an end to the nine days of deliberations after a month-long trial.
Edwards faced six felony charges, including conspiracy, making false statements and four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions during his failed bid for the presidency in 2008. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, which stem from a payment of $925,000 made by two campaign donors to allegedly cover up an affair he had with Hunter, who later gave birth to his daughter.
The jury began deliberating on May 18 after about a month of testimony.
The Edwards defense team surprised court watchers earlier this month by resting its case after only three days of testimony, and without calling the former senator, his former mistress or his older daughter, Cate Edwards, to the stand.
Many legal experts speculated that the lawyers' decision was a sign of confidence that the defense team believes it adequately made its case and didn’t want to risk shifting the focus back to the more salacious aspects of the trial.
The prosecution spent three weeks making the case that Edwards spearheaded the cover-up, while the defense focused on the federal campaign finance aspect of the charges.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, blamed the Department of Justice for launching the losing case against Edwards.
"Today’s verdict in the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards isn’t just a black eye for the Department of Justice (DOJ), it’s a knockout punch for the once vaunted Public Integrity Section,” Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “As noted by nearly every campaign finance lawyer who considered the matter, this was a lousy case. All the salacious details prosecutors offered up to prove that Edwards is, indeed, despicable, were not enough to persuade the jury to convict him.”
Sloan continued, “You’d think DOJ would recognize there are more pressing issues confronting our nation than whether Roger Clemens took steroids and John Edwards hid his mistress, but maybe not. DOJ should apologize to the American people for wasting scarce taxpayer dollars and focus resources on serious matters like the widespread mortgage fraud or the financial crisis that harmed millions of Americans.”
—Updated at 5:25 p.m.