Former US senator John Edwards’ affair and child out of wedlock derailed a political rise that put him on the Democrats’ 2004 White House ticket, but the one-time trial lawyer held his head high on Thursday after a North Carolina jury delivered his most personal victory yet.
Twelve jurors in the state Edwards represented in the US Senate from 1999 to 2005 acquitted him on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions given during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago.
US District Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial on five other counts because the jury was deadlocked about whether Edwards, 58, took money from two wealthy donors to keep voters from learning he was cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, with a campaign videographer.
The jury’s decision on the ninth day of deliberations capped a nearly six-week-long trial that included salacious testimony more befitting of a soap opera than a campaign for the country’s highest political office.
Jurors heard about tawdry affair details, furtive telephone calls and secret donor checks written under the guise of buying furniture, as former campaign workers and supporters painted an unflattering portrait of Edwards.
The trial’s outcome marked yet another dramatic turn of events for the two-time presidential hopeful who beat a Republican incumbent senator in his first political race and became the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee just six years later.
As the jury’s verdict was read, Edwards, who did not testify during the trial and faced possible fines and prison time if convicted, slumped back in his seat in relief.
Later, standing in front of the federal courthouse in Greensboro, he maintained his innocence and choked up as he spoke of his affection for the four-year-old daughter he fathered with then-mistress Rielle Hunter.
“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,” he said, flanked by his parents and 30-year-old daughter, Cate, who stood by him throughout the proceedings.
“I am responsible, and if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly I don’t have to go any further than the mirror. It’s me. It is me and me alone,” he added.
He went on to call his child with Hunter “my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you could ever imagine” and said he still hoped to one day help the country’s poor children.
US Department of Justice prosecutors are unlikely to retry Edwards, but a final decision will be made in the coming days, a law enforcement source said. A department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the jury results or what would happen next.
The government accused Edwards of orchestrating a cover-up plot that funneled more than US$900,000 from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and trial lawyer Fred Baron to Hunter and campaign aide Andrew Young, who said he once falsely claimed paternity of Edwards’ love-child at the candidate’s request.
Jurors found Edwards not guilty of accepting illegal campaign contributions from Mellon in 2008.
However, they could not reach a unanimous decision on a similar count involving money from Mellon in 2007; two counts of accepting illegal campaign money from Baron; one count of conspiring to solicit illegal campaign funds; and one count of failing to report donor payments in excess of US$2,300 as political contributions.