A Greensboro, N.C., jury has acquitted former presidential candidate John Edwards on one count of taking illegal campaign funds, but the judge declared a mistrial after the jury became deadlocked on five other counts.
“While I don’t believe I did anything illegal … I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong, and there is no one else responsible for my sins,” said Edwards, speaking after the trial and taking no questions from reporters. “If I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly I don’t have to go any farther than the mirror. It’s me. It is me and me alone.”
Edwards, 58, was charged with taking illegal campaign funds in a political tempest that embroiled him in a scandal that included his aides, campaign contributors and his mistress — now the mother of the couple’s 4-year-old daughter. But the jury was not convinced that taking the money amounted to a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
Jurors told Judge Catherine Eagles that they had reached a decision on each of the six counts, which she mistakenly took to mean that they had reached a verdict. It turned out that they had not come to a final decision on all the counts. She sent the jury back to its chamber to deliver a final decision, and the result was an acquittal on the charge of taking money from a wealthy donor. With no verdict on the other counts, Eagles declared a mistrial.
The jury deliberated for nine days in the trial, which was at times emotional and at other times bizarre, with testimony from staffers in his 2008 presidential campaign, including aide Andrew Young and his wife Cheri. The couple, having been granted immunity from prosecution, said they worked to conceal the fact that money coming from wealthy contributors intended for the campaign was actually being used to take care of Edwards’ then pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.
That money — $1 million in donations — was given by Edwards supporters Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Texas lawyer Fred Baron. Cheri Young testified that she was assured that depositing the money in an account the two shared was legal. She said that in a conversation she listened to between her husband and Edwards, the candidate said his campaign-finance advisers told him there was nothing illegal about what he was doing.
Prosecutors said Edwards deliberately accepted the money and intended to use it to conceal Hunter and her pregnancy and that he “knowingly” violated campaign-finance laws to do so. The money, they said, was used to pay for Hunter’s medical and living expenses. Edwards was married to Elizabeth Edwards at the time. She died of cancer in 2010.
But his defense said Edwards did no such thing and was not trying to use the funds for Hunter. They countered that the Youngs kept the money and used it for their own gain, accusing them of attempting to cash in again by releasing a book about their experience with Edwards. Neither Edwards nor Hunter testified in the trial.
In addition to his child with Hunter, Edwards is now raising two children, ages 13 and 11, and has a 30-year-old daughter, Cate. He admitted fathering Hunter’s child after newspapers publicized the affair between them and agreed to pay child support. The child now lives with her mother in Charlotte, N.C.
Edwards was also accused of falsifying documents and of conspiracy to receive the funds and conceal them. He was facing a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.