John Edwards not guilty on 1 count, mistrial on others

By Michael Biesecker

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 31 2012 3:09 p.m. MDT

John Edwards, right, leaves a federal courthouse during the eighth day of jury deliberations with his daughter Cate, left, in his trial on charges of campaign corruption in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The judge in John Edwards’ campaign corruption trial says she has received a note from a juror on Wednesday.

Chuck Burton, Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards was acquitted on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions and a mistrial was declared on five other counts when jurors said Thursday they couldn't decide if he illegally used donor money to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president.

The monthlong trial exposed a sordid sex scandal that dashed Edwards' White House aspirations in 2008, and 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.

Edwards did not react when the verdict and mistrial were announced, but he was happy and smiling earlier when the jury said it had reached a verdict on one count after nine days of deliberations.

The jury found Edwards not guilty one count of illegal campaign contributions involving $375,000 wealthy heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon gave in 2008.

The trial recounted the most intimate details of Edwards' affair with Hunter, including reference to a sex tape of the two together that was later destroyed. It also rehashed the elaborate cover-up that involved his most trusted aide, the aide's wife, an elderly heiress and a wealthy Texas donor.

It 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." There was also the drama of John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, tearing her shirt off in front of her husband in a rage after a tabloid reported the affair.

Edwards was accused of masterminding a plan to use money from the wealthy donors to hide Hunter from the media and from his breast cancer-stricken wife while he sought the White House. 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.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Bobby Higdon used Edwards' own campaign rhetoric about the need for the rich and poor to have an equal say in elections — what he called uniting the "two Americas."

"Campaign finance laws are designed to bring the two Americas together at election time," Higdon said. "John Edwards forgot his own rhetoric."

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.

Neither the Democrat nor his mistress took the witness stand during about four weeks of testimony.

The money at issue came from Mellon and campaign finance chairman Fred Baron, a wealthy Texas lawyer. Baron died in 2008 and Mellon, who is 101 years old, did not testify.

Edwards met Hunter in a New York hotel bar in 2006 and they spent the night together. She soon joined his campaign, and despite a lack of filmmaking experience, the politician arranged a $250,000 contract for her to make a series of behind-the-scenes documentaries from the campaign trail.

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