Two of the jurors from the campaign finance trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards told TODAY Friday that they believed he was guilty, but said the evidence was just not there to secure a conviction on any of the six counts.
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The jury found Edwards not guilty on Thursday of one count of accepting illegal campaign contributions and was deadlocked on the remaining five charges after nine days of deliberation. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial on the remaining charges, which arose from Edwards’ race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
‘The evidence wasn’t there’
“I think he definitely had some knowledge of where the money was going,’’ juror Ladonna Foster told Matt Lauer. “The evidence wasn’t there.’’
“(Edwards) was just smart enough to hide it,’’ said juror Cindy Aquaro. “I think he was guilty, but the evidence just was not there for us to prove guilt.’’
Edwards, 58, conducted an affair while his wife Elizabeth was battling the cancer that eventually took her life, and initially lied about fathering a child with his mistress, campaign videographer Rielle Hunter. The prosecution focused on $1 million in donations from Fred Baron and Rachel “Bunny’’ Mellon that allegedly was used to support a pregnant Hunter. The jury found Edwards not guilty of receiving illegal campaign contributions from Mellon in 2008.Video: Edwards juror: ‘The evidence was not there’ (on this page)
The lack of credibility of the government’s top witness, former Edwards aide Andrew Young, played a crucial role in the deadlocked verdicts. Checks from donors were made out to Young’s wife in her maiden name, and Young allegedly used the money to pay for rent, living expenses and more for Hunter.
“I think the credibility of the witness was something that was of utmost importance to us,’’ jury foreman David Recchion told Lauer. “I think, unfortunately, that was probably the key part of the miss for the prosecution.’’
Not a ‘bad person’
Edwards’ clear character issues were not a factor to the two jurors and the foreman. Foster, Aquaro and Recchion all raised their hands when asked by Lauer if they thought Edwards was guilty, but none of them raised their hands when asked if they believed Edwards was a bad person.
“We tried to put our feelings aside, and what we were doing was just looking at the facts to come up with our verdict,’’ Aquaro said.
“We all came in with our own preconceived notions, but then once the evidence was laid out, we had to separate them,’’ Foster said.
In a statement on the steps of the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, Edwards admitted to behaving poorly, but said he had not done anything illegal.Video: Jury unable to reach consensus in Edwards trial (on this page)
"I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and from my voice that while I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful lot that was wrong, and there is no one else responsible for my sins,’’ Edwards told reporters.
During the emotional process of deliberation, the jury believed right up until Wednesday that they would be able to break the deadlock and deliver verdicts on all the counts.
“There were times it got very frustrating, the emotions got high and we’d have to take a minute, step back and everyone calm down,’’ Aquaro said.
Regarding being sent back to the jury room by the judge to deliberate further, Recchion, the foreman, said: “We had deliberately planned on that possibly happening. We knew going in that we wouldn’t go into that jury room without a full conviction of what we wanted to get accomplished. When we went in the first time, we were very confident, but we took the judge’s instructions and came back and did exactly what she asked and deliberated one more time.”
There is a possibility that prosecutors could seek to retry Edwards, raising the issue of whether it’s worth it to spend taxpayer money to go through the process again. Aquaro does not believe the trial was money well spent, while Foster said she thinks there should be a retrial.Video: Will John Edwards be retried after mistrial? (on this page)
As for Recchion, he thinks the law needs to be altered before another trial would be worthwhile.
“I think there needs to be some change in campaign finance law before you go through this process in kind of nailing down what really is and what really isn’t a campaign contribution,’’ the jury foreman said. “I say it was money well-spent. It’s elevating to the world the need for stronger finance law, and it’s also elevating what candidates can and can’t do as it relates to a campaign.’’
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