Jury finds Edwards not guilty on 1 of 6 counts; deadlocked on others
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jury finds Edwards not guilty on 1 of 6 counts in campaign fraud trial; deadlocked on others.
The judge in John Edwards’ campaign corruption trial is telling jurors to keep deliberating after she apparently misunderstood them and thought they had reached a verdict on all six counts.
The jury was called into the courtroom Thursday and U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles said she understood the panel had reached a verdict on all counts.
A note from the jury was handed to the judge that read: “We have finished our deliberations and arrived at our decision on counts 1 through 6.”
That’s when the jury foreman said they have only reached a decision on one count of taking illegal campaign contributions. The money involves payments from wealthy donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.
The verdict was not announced.
Edwards is accused of masterminding a plan to use money from wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress as he ran for president in 2008.
No other information is available at this time.
He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges.
Count 1 – Conspiracy charge: Says from 2007-2009, Edwards conspired with others to accept and receive excessive money in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. This cover up made the John Edwards for President committee file a false report with the FEC.
Counts 2 and 3 – Contributions charges (Mellon): Says Bunny Mellon donated more than the $2300 limit for the year 2007. Count 3 is Mellon donated more than the limit for the year 2008.
Counts 4 and 5 – Contributions charges (Barron): Says Fred Barron donated over the limit in 2007 and 2008.
Count 6 – False Statement charge: States from 2007-2009, Edwards knowingly and willingly falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick to accept and receive excessive money in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. This cover up made the John Edwards for President committee file a false report with the FEC.
From 2007-2009, the maximum allowed to donate to a campaign was $2,300. Donors could give for the primary and general elections. Because Edwards didn’t win the nomination from the democratic party, the campaign had to reimburse all donors for any money they’d given for the general election.
Jurors in the John Edwards corruption trial, in their ninth day of deliberations, opted to work through most of their lunch break Thursday, according to the judge in the case.
The jury was taking only a short break rather than their usual full hour, Judge Catherine C. Eagles said.
Edwards, a former presidential nominee, is charged with accepting illegal campaign contributions, falsifying documents and conspiring to receive and conceal the contributions. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Jurors last week asked to review all the exhibits, indicating they were in it for the long haul.
Prosecutors said Edwards “knowingly and willingly” accepted almost $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide former mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy, then concealed the donations by filing false and misleading campaign disclosure reports.
Defense attorneys argued that Edwards was guilty of nothing but being a bad husband to his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2010. They also argued that former Edwards aide Andrew Young used the money for his own gain and to pay for Hunter’s medical expenses to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife.
Neither Edwards nor Hunter testified during the trial. The affair occurred as Edwards was gearing up for a second White House bid in 2008, and he knew his political ambitions depended on keeping his affair with Hunter a secret, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon told jurors in closing arguments.
“There is no question it would destroy the campaign of John Edwards,” Higdon said.
Prosecutors argued that Edwards knowingly violated campaign finance laws by accepting the large contributions from Rachel Mellon and Fred Baron that went to support Hunter. Edwards “knew these rules well,” Higdon said, and should have known that the contributions violated campaign finance laws.
Edwards accepted $725,000 from Mellon and more than $200,000 from Baron, prosecutors said. The money was used to pay for Hunter’s living and medical expenses, travel and other costs to keep her out of sight while Edwards made his White House run, prosecutors say.
Defense attorneys argued the donations cannot be considered campaign contributions.
Prosecutors said Edwards manipulated Young and others to help keep his affair out of public view. Young testified that he allowed Hunter to move in with him and his wife at Edwards’ request after newspapers began looking into a possible affair within the Edwards campaign. Young initially claimed to be the father of Hunter’s baby girl and testified that Mellon was already funding Hunter’s living expenses when he called Baron to complain about the situation.
Baron offered to help out, telling Young to write up Hunter’s expenses so Baron could reimburse them, the aide testified.
Neither Baron nor Mellon appeared to know that the other was reimbursing Young for the same expenses, raising questions about whether and how much Young may have profited from the situation. Young acknowledged during the trial that he had used some donations for his own personal benefit, including paying for the construction of a home.
Another former Edwards aide, speechwriter Wendy Button, testified that Edwards knew Baron was supporting Hunter and her child in 2009. Defense lawyer Abbe Lowell urged jurors to focus on Young’s role in the case, saying he was a biased and unreliable witness with a financial and legal interest in the outcome.
“There is nothing he won’t lie about, nothing,” Lowell said.
Young, the author of a tell-all book about the Edwards scandal, testified under an agreement with the government in hopes that he will not be prosecuted. Prosecutors agreed that Young made several mistakes over the years, including keeping some of the money, failing to confront Edwards earlier about his behavior and falsely claiming paternity for Edwards’ child with Hunter.
But David Harbach of the U.S. Justice Department’s public integrity section told jurors in a rebuttal argument that Lowell was merely trying to distract jurors from focusing on the charges against Edwards.
“The defense is overplaying their hand,” Harbach said.