GREENSBORO, N.C. - John Edwards was acquitted on one charge of campaign finance fraud and a mistrial was declared on five other counts Thursday when jurors said they couldn't decide if he illegally used money to hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president.
The monthlong trial exposed a sordid sex scandal that dashed Edwards' White House aspirations in 2008, and the jury's decision came on a confusing day.
The judge initially called jurors in to read a verdict on all six counts, before learning that they had only agreed to one. About an hour later, the jury sent the note to the judge saying it had exhausted its discussions.
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would retry Edwards on the other counts.
When the not guilty verdict was read, Edwards choked up, put a single finger to his lip and took a moment to compose himself. He turned to his daughter, Cate, in the first row and smiled.
When the judge declared the mistrial and discharged the jury, Edwards hugged his daughter, his parents and his attorneys.
The jury reached a verdict on count three, which involved to $375,000 given by elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon in 2008. The other counts dealt with $350,000 Mellon gave in 2007, money from wealthy Texas attorney Fred Baron, filing a false campaign finance report and conspiracy.
Jurors did not talk to the media as they left the courthouse.
The trial recounted the most intimate details of Edwards' affair with Hunter, including reference to a sex tape of the two together that was later destroyed. It also rehashed the elaborate cover-up that involved his most trusted aide, the aide's wife, and Baron and Mellon.
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.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Bobby Higdon used Edwards' own campaign rhetoric about the need for the rich and poor to have an equal say in elections -- what he called uniting the "two Americas."
"Campaign finance laws are designed to bring the two Americas together at election time," Higdon said. "John Edwards forgot his own rhetoric."
Edwards' attorneys said prosecutors didn't prove that Edwards knew that taking the money violated campaign finance law. They said he shouldn't be convicted for being a liar, and even if he did know about some of the money, it was a gift, not a campaign contribution.
"This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime ... between a sin and a felony," attorney Abbe Lowell told the jury. "John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those."
They also said the money was used to keep the affair hidden from his wife, not to influence his presidential bid.
Neither the Democrat nor his mistress took the witness stand during about four weeks of testimony.
Baron died in 2008 and Mellon, who is 101 years old, did not testify.
Edwards met Hunter in a New York hotel bar in 2006 and they spent the night together. She soon joined his campaign, and despite a lack of filmmaking experience, the politician arranged a $250,000 contract for her to make a series of behind-the-scenes documentaries from the campaign trail.
Word of the affair eventually got back to Edwards' wife. On Dec. 30, 2006, the day Edwards officially announced his bid for president at an event in his hometown of Chapel Hill, Elizabeth Edwards bumped into Hunter for the first time and became visibly upset, according to testimony. She told her husband to get rid of her, and while Hunter officially left the campaign, John Edwards continued to meet with her on the road.
Hunter became pregnant in the summer of 2007. As Hunter's belly began to show that September, tabloid reporters began tailing her. Within weeks, the Youngs had set up Hunter in a $2,700-a-month rental home not far from the Edwards estate in Chapel Hill, using the donated money.
In October 2007, a day after a tabloid reported the affair, Elizabeth Edwards blew up at her husband, according to testimony from former adviser Christina Reynolds. Edwards' now-deceased wife stormed away from her husband at a private hangar, collapsing into a ball on the pavement. After composing herself in a nearby ladies room, Elizabeth Edwards ripped off her shirt and bra and screamed, "You don't see me anymore!" As staffers scrambled to cover her up and whisk her into a car, her husband boarded a jet and headed to a campaign event in South Carolina.
That December, in an attempt