By MICHAEL BIESECKER
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jury finds John Edwards not guilty on 1 of 6 counts in campaign fraud trial; deadlocked on others.
The ninth day of deliberations in Edwards’ campaign fraud trial took a bizarre turn earlier today when the judge mistakenly believed the jurors had reached a verdict on all six counts.
Instead, the jury told the judge they had a unanimous decision on only one charge, and the panel was sent back to the jury room for more talks.
Edwards is accused of masterminding a plan to use money from wealthy donors Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer, to hide his pregnant mistress Rielle Hunter from the media and his breast cancer-stricken wife while he sought the White House in 2008.
The jury reached a verdict on one count of illegal campaign contributions involving Mellon, but their decision was not announced.
Edwards appeared happy and smiled at his family. His attorneys argued for a mistrial on the other counts and they asked for the verdict to be announced.
It was not read, and U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles told the jurors to keep deliberating. She apologized for calling them into the courtroom and then sending them back for more discussions.
“I was obviously under the impression you had reached a verdict on all six counts,” Eagles said.
The judge read the jury the Allen Charge, encouraging them to reconsider their positions and deliberate further. But she said it’s possible they may not be able to come to a unanimous decision on the other counts.
“If that’s so, that’s so,” Eagles said.
Prosecutors say 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.
The weekslong trial has gone into the most intimate details of a sordid sex scandal that effectively ended Edwards’ political career and the elaborate cover-up that involved his most trusted aide, the aide’s wife, and the two wealthy donors.
Edwards’ lawyers have argued that the ex-U.S. senator never knew that taking the money violated campaign finance law, and that his personal transgressions weren’t illegal.
The jury has made more news in recent days of the trial, as Eagles has closed the court to discuss unspecified issues with jurors. Four alternate jurors began wearing matching colored shirts to court and one of them was said to be exchanging smiles with Edwards. Eagles told the alternates on Wednesday that they no longer needed to come to court during deliberations.
The jurors, whose identities have been withheld throughout the trial, asked to see dozens of trial exhibits during deliberations, relating to Mellon and Baron’s donations.
Mellon, who is 101 years old, did not testify. Baron died in 2008.
Elizabeth Edwards died in late 2010.