GREENSBORO, N.C. — John Edwards' campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial Thursday when jurors acquitted him on one of six charges but were 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."
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, along with his mistress Rielle Hunter and 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. Several media organizations, including The Associated Press, have filed a motion asking for the names to be released but the judge has refused to release the information for at least a week.
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.
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, even choking up when talking about the daughter he had with his mistress Rielle Hunter.
He called Frances 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 6-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 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.
"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.
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.
Word of the affair eventually got back to Edwards' wife. On Dec. 30, 2006, the day Edwards officially announced his bid for president at an event in his hometown of Chapel Hill, Elizabeth Edwards bumped into Hunter for the first time and became visibly upset, according to testimony. She told her husband to get rid of her, and while Hunter officially left the campaign, John Edwards continued to meet with her on the road.
Hunter became pregnant in the summer of 2007. As Hunter's belly began to show that September, tabloid reporters began tailing her. Within weeks, the Youngs had set up Hunter in a $2,700-a-month rental home not far from the Edwards estate in Chapel Hill, using the donated money.
In October 2007, a day after a tabloid reported the affair, Elizabeth Edwards blew up at her husband, according to testimony from former adviser Christina Reynolds. Edwards' now-deceased wife stormed away from her husband at a private hangar, collapsing into a ball on the pavement. After composing herself in a nearby ladies room, Elizabeth Edwards ripped off her shirt and bra and screamed, "You don't see me anymore!" As staffers scrambled to cover her up and whisk her into a car, her husband boarded a jet and headed to a campaign event in South Carolina.
That December, in an attempt to contain the scandal, Young issued a statement claiming the baby was his. Prosecutors presented phone records showing Edwards and Young – and Young and Baron – talked with each other that day and claimed they conspired to come up with the plan.
About a month later, Edwards' presidential campaign began to fold with poor showings in the early presidential primary states. Even before he officially suspended his presidential campaign at the end of January 2008, Edwards had begun wooing the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for a spot in their administration, perhaps as vice president.
Meanwhile, Hunter was on the run with the Youngs. Baron let them stay at his vacation mansion in Aspen, Colo., and paid for them to live in a $20,000-a-month manor in Santa Barbara, Calif. Hunter gave birth to Francis Quinn Hunter in February 2008.
Records at trial showed Baron paid Hunter a $9,000 monthly cash allowance, on top of providing flights on private jets and stays at luxury resorts.
The deposits began in June 2008 – several months after Edwards ended his White House run – and continued until December 2008, two months after Baron died.
The timing of the payments may have been important. The defense argued most of the money was spent after Edwards ended his presidential bid. Prosecutors claim Edwards was still seeking the Democratic vice presidential nomination or a future appointment as attorney general.
Although Edwards' attorneys have conceded he had some limited knowledge of Baron's support for Hunter, they deny he knew anything about $725,000 provided to Young by the wealthy heiress Mellon, an ardent supporter of Edwards' campaign.
Edwards admitted to the Hunter affair in August 2008. Days later, he met with Young briefly on a secluded road near the Edwards estate outside Chapel Hill. According to Young's testimony at the trail, the two talked about the secret checks Mellon had provided to the campaign aide.
"I didn't know about these, did you?" Edwards said, according to Young.
Worried he was being taped, Young lied and said no. Young told Edwards he had kept evidence of the cover-up, including voicemails, emails and the tape that purportedly showed Edwards and Hunter having sex. He said he threatened to go public if Edwards' didn't come clean about the baby.
"You can't hurt me, Andrew," Edwards told Young as he opened the door to get out, Young said. "You can't hurt me."
Edwards announced he was the father of Francis Quinn Hunter in January 2010, nearly two years after she was born and his candidacy ended.
Elizabeth Edwards died in late 2010.
The jurors, whose identities were withheld throughout the trial, asked to see dozens of trial exhibits during deliberations, relating to Mellon and Baron's donations. Some jurors raised eyebrows in recent days by wearing matching colored shirts to court, and one alternate juror was said to be flirting with Edwards. Eagles warned the jury on its sixth day of deliberations not to discuss the case in small groups.
As Edwards left the courthouse steps, a tabloid reporter asked whether he loved Hunter and would marry her. Edwards did not answer and turned away.
Associated Press writer Martha Waggoner in Greensboro and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck
|@ samsteinhp : Edwards: "i don't think god is through with me"|
|@ mpoindc : Wow, Edwards: "And finally, my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you could ever imagine...I am so grateful for Quinn..."|
|@ TheFix : "There is no one else responsible for my sins." -- John Edwards.|
|@ HuffPostPol : Edwards: Jurors took their job "very, very seriously"|
|@ DMarkPOLITICO : Dem consultant Garry South: "No amount of attempted rehabilitation will save the philandering Edwards' reputation." http://t.co/jdJiyksz|
|@ jaketapper : Our reporter Jim Hill says Edwards' mother said “We prayed for this and God answered our prayers."|
|@ AntDeRosa : RT @ProducerMatthew: CNN homepage says John Edwards found "guilty" on one count... http://t.co/2J8grOzE|
All of the attention on the John Edwards verdict presents some political opportunity for the clever-minded. As Twitter explodes with reaction to the not-guilty-on-one-count verdict, the AFL-CIO's super PAC has jumped into action, buying the following ad that's featured on "John Edwards" searches:
|@ WorkersVoice : Searching for John Edwards?!?! Are you serious? Wouldn't your time be better spent making calls to recall Walker? http://t.co/Bxy9z56H|
-- Sam Stein
|@ BreakingNews : Judge has ruled a mistrial on the 5 remaining charges in John Edwards trial - @NBCNews http://t.co/AE0QlTsN|
|@ jaketapper : EDWARDS TRIAL: NOT GUILTY on county 3, HUNG JURY on all other counts -- ABC News NC team|
|@ ProducerMatthew : RT @1360WCHL: BREAKING: Jury heading back to courtroom. 'Decision has been made.' #edwardstrial|
|@ ethanklapper : GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Edwards, attorneys back in courtroom after judge tells jurors to keep deliberating; reason unclear.|
The AP reports:
The ninth day of deliberations in John Edwards' campaign fraud trial took a bizarre turn Thursday when the judge mistakenly believed the jurors had reached a verdict on all six counts.
Instead, the jury told the judge they had a unanimous decision on only one charge, and the panel was sent back to the jury room for more talks.
The jury reached a verdict on one count of illegal campaign contributions involving Mellon, but their decision was not announced.
Edwards appeared happy and smiled at his family. His attorneys argued for a mistrial on the other counts and they asked for the verdict to be announced.
It was not read, and U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles told the jurors to keep deliberating. She apologized for calling them into the courtroom and then sending them back for more discussions.
"I was obviously under the impression you had reached a verdict on all six counts," Eagles said.
The judge read the jury the Allen Charge, encouraging them to reconsider their positions and deliberate further. But she said it's possible they may not be able to come to a unanimous decision on the other counts.
"If that's so, that's so," Eagles said.
|@ JeffreyToobin : Finishing previous tweet . . . Today's news -- so far -- is better for defense than prosecution.|
HuffPost Media reports:
CNN's Jeffrey Toobin was characteristically candid about the latest shambolic developments in the John Edwards corruption trial.
Click here to read more.
While the 16 jurors in the John Edwards trail are not allowed to be fully identified until after the trial, the court has provided a list of their occupations:
- Special education teacher
- Financial consultant
- Customer service
- Maintenance mechanic
- Retired railroad engineer
- Human resources
- Retired accountant
- Heat press lead
- Retired police/fire department
- Corporate vice president
- Restaurant employee
- Machine operator
-- Ethan Klapper
|@ AP : MORE: Judge apparently misunderstood Edwards jurors and thought they had reached a verdict on all six counts: http://t.co/cPimsyoY -MS|
|@ HuffPostMedia : Jeffrey Toobin on CNN: 'this is a mess. This is not how a trial is supposed to end.' #edwards|
The AP reports:
The jury in the John Edwards campaign corruption trial has reached a verdict on one of six counts, but is apparently deadlocked on the others.
The judge told the jury Thursday that she understood that the panel had reached a verdict on all counts, and the jury foreman said no.
Prosecutors argued that the jury should keep deliberating and the defense asked for the verdict on the one count and a mistrial on the others.
Love At First Sight?
"And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"
An Extraordinary Night
"We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"
The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt
"Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."
'I Had To Sleep With Him'
"I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."
Falling In Love
"I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."
Here's ... Johnny!
"Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."
Knight In Shining Armor?
"I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."
On Her Relationship Status
"I am not engaged."
Why She's Talking Now
"I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."
Not A Gold Digger
"I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."
'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'
"And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."
'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'
"I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."
A Toxic Relationship
"[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."
'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'
"Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."
Not A 'Home Wrecker'
"And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."
Naming Frances Quinn Hunter
"Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."
Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?
"Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."