GREENSBORO, N.C. – Federal prosecutors dropped all charges Wednesday against John Edwards after his corruption trial ended last month in a deadlocked jury.
Jurors in North Carolina acquitted the former presidential candidate on one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions and deadlocked on five other felony counts. The judge declared a mistrial.
Prosecutors will not seek to retry Edwards on the five unresolved counts, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who oversees the agency's criminal division, said prosecutors knew the case, like all campaign finance cases, would be challenging. But he said it is "our duty to bring hard cases" when warranted.
"Last month, the government put forward its best case against Mr. Edwards, and I am proud of the skilled and professional way in which our prosecutors.... conducted this trial," he said.
Edwards was accused of masterminding a scheme to use about $1 million in secret payments from two wealthy political donors to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008. He would have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges.
At trial, the case against Edwards rested largely on the testimony of his former right-hand man, Andrew Young, who initially claimed paternity of his boss's baby and deposited most of the money at issue in the case into his family's personal accounts. But upon cross examination, Edwards' lawyers used inconsistencies from Young's past statements to undermine his credibility and showed the aide and his wife siphoned off much of the money to help build their $1.6 million dream home.
A former trial lawyer, Edwards elected not testify at his six-week trial. His mistress, Rielle Hunter, also didn't take the stand.
After deliberating for nine days, jurors acquitted Edwards on a charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions, involving $375,000 from elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon in 2008. He had also been charged with illegally accepting $350,000 from Mellon in 2007, other donations from wealthy Texas attorney Fred Baron, filing a false campaign finance report and conspiracy.
Edwards' lawyers — Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan — said in a joint statement that they are pleased with the government's decision not to seek a second trial that they believe would have had the same outcome.
"While John has repeatedly admitted to his sins, he has also consistently asserted, as we demonstrated at the trial, that he did not violate any campaign law nor even imagined that any campaign laws could apply," they said. "We are very glad that, after living under this cloud for over three years, John and his family can have their lives back and enjoy the peace they deserve."
Edwards, who lives in Chapel Hill, has not yet issued a statement. His eldest daughter, Cate Edwards, reacted using her Twitter account moments after prosecutors announced their decision. She sat behind her father in the courtroom nearly every day of his six week trial.
"Big sigh of relief," Cate Edwards, 30, tweeted. "Ready to move forward with life."
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck