Federal prosecutors drop case against John Edwards
John Edwards leaves a federal courthouse during the ninth day of jury deliberations in his trial on charges of campaign corruption in Greensboro, N.C., May 31, 2012. / AP Photo/Chuck Burton
(CBS/AP) 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. "The jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on five of the six counts of the indictment, however, and we respect their judgment. In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts."
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.
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."
Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor and Raleigh defense attorney who attended the trial, said earlier this month he thought the prosecutors took their best shot with what was ultimately a very weak case.
"They got their best witnesses, their best evidence and the judge ruled in their favor on all major evidentiary issues," Shanahan said. "In the end, the jury just didn't believe them."
Retrying the case would have likely been costly, and could have inspired even more accusations that the reasons for doing so were politically motivated - a notion Edwards' lawyers pushed from the start.
The jury's refusal to convict Edwards was less a redemption of the former White House hopeful than a rejection of the Justice Department's boldest attempt to make an example of someone in the name of enforcing campaign finance laws.
Last month's verdict bore out criticism from the earliest stages of the case that it was a reach, that prosecutors went after the ex-U.S. senator without the kind of evidence that justified the charges that he masterminded a scheme to use campaign donations to hide his pregnant mistress from the public and his terminally ill wife.
"As noted by nearly every campaign finance lawyer who considered the matter, this was a lousy case," said Melanie Sloan, executive director for the campaign finance watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "All the salacious details prosecutors offered up to prove that Edwards is, indeed, despicable, were not enough to persuade the jury to convict him."
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