John Edwards Not Guilty on 1 Count, but Admits Moral Failing; Mistrial on 5 Other Counts

Admits he sinned, but jury says he's not guilty of campaign finance charge.

May 18, 2012, 1:05 PM

GREENSBORO, N.C., May 31, 2012— -- A North Carolina jury found former Sen. John Edwards not guilty today on one of six counts in a campaign-finance trial, and declared itself hopelessly deadlocked on the remaining charges, leading the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts.

Edwards, a two-time presidential candidate, accused of soliciting nearly $1 million from wealthy backers to finance a cover up of his illicit affair and illegitimate child during his 2008 bid for the White House, was found not guilty on count 3 of the six-part indictment. That count pertained only to whether Edwards illegally received several hundred thousand dollars in donations from wealthy heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to cover up the affair in 2008.

Following the verdict, Edwards, who remained silent throughout the trial, gave an emotional speech on the courthouse steps. He acknowledged his moral shortcomings and thanked his children, dramatically pausing when mentioning 4-year-old Frances Quinn, the child he fathered with his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Edwards was joined every day in the courtroom by his oldest daughter, Cate, 30. He said he took care of his two other children, Emma, 14, and Jack, 12, seeing them off to school every day.

But when it came to acknowledging Quinn, he got choked up.

"My precious Quinn," he said, "who I love more than any of you can ever imagine, [who] I am so close to, so, so grateful for."

Edwards said he did not believe he did anything "illegal" but acknowledged the affair he conducted while his wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer was "awful" and "wrong."

"No one else is responsible for my sins," he said. "I am responsible.

"If I want to find the person responsible for my sins, I don't have to go further than a mirror," he added. "It was me and me alone."

After nine days of deliberations, three times as long as the defense took to put on its case, the courtroom was thrown into confusion this afternoon when it briefly appeared the jury had reached a verdict on all counts.

The jury informed the judge it had not reached a verdict and was charged again to go back to deliberating.

The other counts pertained to Mellon's donations in 2007, donations in 2007 and 2008 from another wealthy donor, Fred Baron, a conspiracy charge, and a charge of making false statements.

Less than an hour after the judge sent them back to deliberate, the jury returned and declared itself hung on those five outstanding counts.

"The verdict is not surprising," said Steve Friedland, a law professor at Elon University School of Law in North Carolina. "Since there was not a smoking gun and lots of indirect evidence, it was very difficult for the prosecution to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of taking illegal campaign contributions."

A Department of Justice spokeswoman had no comment on the case. However, several Department of Justice officials indicated it was unlikely that the department would seek a retrial on the deadlocked counts against Edwards.

Ultimately the decision will be reviewed by the prosecution team, the Department of Justice Criminal Division, the Public Integrity Section and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Following the verdict, Edwards hugged his attorney, Abbe Lowell, his daughter, Cate, and his two elderly parents. Those family members were a constant presence throughout the trial, subjected to some of most torrid details of Edwards' extra-marital escapades.

Edwards' father, Wallace, pointed the smile on his face, and said: "This says it all."

Still, despite the verdict, Edwards did not come away unscathed.

"Regardless of the decision, he still is Exhibit A for how we do not want our leaders to behave," Friedland said. "This is a huge victory for him, and big burden off his shoulders, but a hollow one given his astounding fall from grace."

Edwards Trial: Lurid Details

The jury began deliberating on May 18 after a month of testimony, which at times sounded more like a steamy soap opera than a trial on the intricacies of campaign finance rules.

The government spent three weeks building its case. Much of it hinged on the testimony of Andrew Young, once Edwards' most loyal aide, who testified he collected $725,000 from Mellon, who disguised her contributions as payments for antique furniture.

The prosecution detailed the way Edwards met Hunter and how he worked throughout his campaign to keep the affair and, later, his love child a secret. The government said Baron, another wealthy backer who was once Edwards' campaign treasurer, contributed an additional $300,000 to move Hunter and her baby all over the country to keep them away from the media.

None of the principal witnesses in the case were ever called to testify. Baron died of cancer in 2008. Mellon is 101 years old. Neither Hunter not Edwards himself ever took the stand.

In just three days of defense testimony, Edwards' lawyers tried to portray Young as the mastermind of a plot to use Edwards' scandal to request funds for his own personal use. Any lies Edwards told, his lawyers said, were in an effort to keep the affair a secret from his wife, Elizabeth, who was dying of cancer, and not to advance his political career.

The panel of eight men and four women spent nine days and more than 50 hours deliberating, breaking only for lunch or when the judge ordered closed-door sessions to discuss issues with them.

The jurors themselves captured headlines in recent days when four alternate jurors began wearing color-coordinated outfits. The judge told those jurors on Thursday that they could return to their homes and not attend remaining sessions of the trial.

ABC News' Jason Ryan contributed to this report.

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