Capping a day of dramatic turnarounds, the jury in the campaign finance trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards found him not guilty on Thursday one one count and said it was deadlocked on the remaining five charges.
U.S. District Catherine Eagles then declared a mistrial on the remaining charges.
Earlier, the jury of eight men and four women told Eagles that it had reached a verdict on all six felony accounts against Edwards. But after the jury returned to the courtroom, the foreperson stated that jurors had reached a unanimous decision on only one count. Eagles then sent them back to the jury room to resume deliberations.
The count on which the jury reached a verdict involved contributions from Edwards' contributor Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
The charges against Edwards, 58, arose from about $1 million in donations while he was in the midst of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination from two wealthy donors, Fred Baron and Mellon, a billionnaire banking heiress. The money was used to support and hide Edwards' pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has faced public and private challenges throughout his life and career.
If found guilty of all six counts, Edwards could have faced up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. Each individual count carries a maximum sentence of 5 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Attorneys for Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and prosecutors alike painted him as a liar and a bad husband. Where they differed was whether the scheme to hide his affair amounted to a crime.
The jurors — eight men and four women, six of them white, five African-American and one Hispanic — must decide whether Edwards "knowingly and willfully" violated a 1971 campaign finance law by orchestrating the scheme to support and hide Hunter.
Prosecutors alleged in their closing arguments that Edwards manipulated the campaign finance system to conceal the affair with Hunter, a videographer on his 2008 presidential campaign staff.
He "clearly knew the law and decided to violate it in order to salvage his campaign," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon said, accusing Edwards of cynically seeking to "keep her quiet" until the election was over "and his wife (had) passed away."
Lead defense attorney Abbe Lowell admitted in his closing arguments that Edwards had committed many "moral wrongs," but he insisted that none of the misdeeds was "a legal one."
"John's conduct is shameful, but it's human," Lowell told the jury.
Letters and other notes from Mellon appeared to be crucial to the jurors' deliberations — from their first day of discussions, they requested a stream of exhibits related to the nearly $750,000 she contributed.
Mellon, who is 101 years old, didn't testify during the trial, but her attorney and financial adviser, Alex Forger, offered extensive testimony that Mellon knew that her donations were intended to fund the "Hunter problem" and weren't given as campaign contributions.
A possible turning point came in mid-May, when Judge Eagles barred most of the defense's planned testimony from current and former members of the Federal Election Commission about a federal audit that concluded that the money didn't amount to campaign contributions subject to federal regulation.