GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Justice Department's attempt to convict John Edwards of campaign finance fraud failed Thursday, with a federal jury rejecting the complex felony case against him.
Minutes later, Edwards delivered an abject confession and apology on the courthouse steps with his family at his side.
"While I do not believe I ever did anything illegal . . . I've done an awful, awful lot that was wrong," Edwards said after jurors found him not guilty of one charge of violating federal election laws. The judge declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked on five other charges.
Flanked by his elderly parents and his oldest daughter, Cate, the former candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination said he alone was responsible for the illicit affair that destroyed his marriage, ended his political career and tarnished his reputation. Prosecutors had focused on his furtive romance with Rielle Hunter, eliciting withering testimony that he lied about it and tried to cover it up.
"There is no one else who is responsible for my sins," Edwards said Thursday. "I am responsible. . . . It is me and me alone."
In what seemed an offer of heartfelt contrition and the beginning of a campaign to rehabilitate his image, Edwards spoke of his love for his children — including the daughter he fathered with Hunter, but who he once denied was his child.
He choked up when talking about Frances Quinn Hunter, 4, calling her precious and "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."
He said he would "dedicate (his) life to being the best dad I think I can be" and to helping poor children.
A jury of eight men and four women deliberated for more than 50 hours over nine days before telling U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles on Thursday afternoon that they were deadlocked over the five charges. Just 20 minutes after the judge asked them to resume deliberations and try to reach unanimous verdicts, the jurors returned to report that they were still hopelessly deadlocked.
The Justice Department must now decide whether to retry Edwards on the five counts. A spokeswoman in Washington, Alisa Finelli, said the department had no immediate comment.
Edwards, 58, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was charged with "knowingly and willingly" accepting illegal campaign contributions from two wealthy donors to help hide the affair and save his campaign for the 2008 nomination from collapsing in scandal.
He had faced up to 30 years in jail and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.
Edwards' lawyers conceded that he was a philandering husband who had lied to his cancer-stricken wife and to voters. But they said the payments were private gifts intended to hide the ongoing affair and Frances Quinn from Elizabeth Edwards, who was in failing health. She died of cancer in December 2010.
The narrative of the trial was dominated by salacious details of Edwards' affair, but the outcome hinged on the intricacies of densely written federal campaign finance laws. In the end, jurors decided that Edwards did not violate those laws regarding a $200,000 check in 2008 from billionaire heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. They did not indicate which way they were leaning on the five deadlocked charges.
Edwards leaned back in his chair and exhaled when the not-guilty verdict was read aloud. Moments later, he reached across the courtroom bar to hug Cate, 30, a lawyer herself.
Asked how he felt about the jury's decision, Edwards' father, Wallace Edwards, 80, pointed to the smile on his lips and said: "This says it all."
Edwards' mother, Bobbie, 78, said, "We prayed for this and God answered our prayers."