The generally accepted wisdom about trials is that the longer a jury is out, the better the chances are for the defendant. When it comes back quickly, that usually means the evidence was ample and clear and a guilty verdict easy.
So as the jury remained out day after day in the John Edwards trial, it seemed more and more likely that the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate would get off on charges of misusing almost $1million in campaign contributions to hide his extramarital affair and the baby that resulted from it. When the verdict finally came after nine days, it wasn’t surprising: Jury members acquitted him on one count and deadlocked on the other five. The judge declared a mistrial, and most observers said the prosecution shouldn’t try again and probably wouldn’t.
The headline on the reason.com website summed things up pretty well: “John Edwards is still a scumbag but not, so far, a felon.” Edwards said much the same thing in a surprisingly honest self-assessment that almost amounted to an apology. “While I do not believe I did anything illegal,” he said, “or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong and there is no one else responsible for my sins.”
He could have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if he was convicted of all charges. He did not testify, nor did mistress Rielle Hunter or the two donors whose money was at issue. They didn’t have to. The campaign finance laws involved are so complex and the evidence against Edwards so ambiguous that many experts wondered why the prosecution even tried to make a case.