Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards — some disliked him all along. Some were seduced by his Southern populism and revival-preacher manner, then hated him when they found out what a despicable person he was. When six charges related to him using campaign cash to hide his pregnant mistress came down, it was like America said, “We’ve got to punish this guy somehow. Damn.”
But campaign finance laws are written by the people subject to them, so they can be subject to a little wiggle room. Given days of deliberation, the jury could not come to a decision on five counts and declared Edwards not guilty of malfeasance in the receipt of $375,000 from 101-year-old heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.
But a mistrial is as good as a categorical not-guilty for the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, since it was reported on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that the prosecutors would not seek to retry Edwards.
When the judge declared the 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 Francis 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.’
Andrew Young, a former Edwards confidant, was granted immunity by the prosecution and he and his wife seem to relish testifying against Edwards in what turned out to be a fruitless effort. Young, when the scandal broke, covered for Edwards by publicly claiming Hunter’s child as his own.
It 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.’ There was also the drama of John Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, tearing her shirt off in front of her husband in a rage after a tabloid reported the affair.
Edwards was accused of masterminding a plan to use the money to hide Hunter from the media and from his breast cancer-stricken wife. 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.
That’s cold, brother. But, as defense attorney Abbe Lowell told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
by J.L. Mann Cromer, Jr., who served as the only true independent member of the South Carolina General Assembly from 1990-1998. Currently, he is a general practice attorney in Columbia, S.C., concentrating in probate and estate planning, criminal defense and personal injury law.