GREENSBORO, N.C. — Johnny Reid Edwards, a honey-voiced North Carolina lawyer who parlayed his boyish good looks and inspiring personal history as the son of a mill-worker into a meteoric political rise, was acquitted of one count Thursday in a corruption case, as the judge declared a mistrial on five other charges on which the jury was deadlocked.
Edwards emerged from the courthouse with his daughter and parents by his side to deliver remarks that sounded more like repentance than triumph. He lamented his “sins” and said he would not have to go far to find who is responsible. “I don’t have to go any further than the mirror,” he said. “It’s me and me alone.”
Edwards made no mention of Rielle Hunter, the videographer he had carried on a torrid affair with during his 2008 presidential campaign. But his voice cracked with emotion when he spoke of the child she bore him, “my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you could ever imagine.”
And he suggested there might be a future for him in public life, citing his concerns about poverty, the signature issue of his failed campaign. “I don’t think God is through with me.”
The mixed result in a trial that laid bare Edwards’s sexual indiscretions and serial deceptions came after nine days of jury deliberations.
In four weeks of testimony, Edwards was portrayed by a parade of witnesses as a scheming and manipulative politician, but at least some jurors remained unconvinced that he orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy to secretly funnel nearly $1 million that should have been declared as campaign contributions to his mistress and the aides who helped him hide an extramarital affair during the 2008 presidential campaign.
When the decision was read by the clerk, Edwards’s face betrayed no emotion, but he slumped back in his chair. Moments later, he turned to his parents, Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, and they smiled at him broadly.
When the jury left the courtroom, Edwards rose and leaned across the bar in a long embrace with his daughter, Cate Edwards, who has been in the courtroom almost every day through a grueling trial.
That embrace was followed by another long hug with his parents, tears welling in his aging mother’s eyes. Asked how he felt, Wallace Edwards pointed at his smile. “This says it all,” he said. Bobbie Edwards, in a voice trembling with emotion, added, “We prayed for this, so God has answered our prayers.”
The only count that the jury reached a verdict on dealt with $200,000 in payments from Virgina heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon that were deposited after Edwards dropped out of the 2008 presidential race. Prosecutors failed to persuade jurors that the payments should be considered campaign contributions because Edwards was angling to become the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee or be tapped as attorney general or Supreme Court justice.
The verdict and the mistrial on the other charges represents some measure of vindication for Edwards who has suffered through a long, slow tumble from grace after revelations in 2008 of the extramarital affair he tried to conceal during his 2008 presidential campaign. But it’s still unlikely to rehabilitate the irretrievably tarnished legacy of a political star who came within a few swing states of ascending to the vice presidency in 2004 when he was the running mate of presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Edwards, a 58-year-old Democrat who served one term in the U.S. Senate, has become such a pariah here that many of his closest friends and supporters have cut off ties with him. During many days of the trial, his 30-year-old daughter Cate was the sum total of his support network inside the court, though his elderly parents also spent considerable time there in the final days of testimony.
Edwards’s downfall can be traced back to a chance 2006 encounter in a New York hotel with Rielle Hunter, an eccentric videographer who walked up to him, said, “You’re so hot,” and handed him a business card that read: “Rielle Hunter: Being is free.” Edwards and Hunter soon began an affair, which Edwards continued even after it was discovered by his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who was battling the cancer that took her life in 2010.
Elizabeth Edwards was so consumed and pained by her husband’s lies that she demanded phone records from campaign staffers to see whether he was calling Hunter and scoured financial records. Because of his wife’s suspicions, Edwards—who became wealthy as a trial lawyer before entering politics—was unable to use his personal fortune to hide the affair, prosecutors said.