John Edwards Found Not Guilty of One Charge
updated 05/16/2012 AT 05:15 PM EDT
•originally published 05/31/2012 AT 04:40 PM EDT
A mistrial was declared on those outstanding counts, leaving the final chapter in the downfall of the once-rising political star still to be written.
The jury of eight men and four women reached its single decision after deliberating for nine days.
"I know you're probably frustrated to some extent," Judge Catherine C. Eagles told jurors. "You worked hard. You did your job. You can hold your head up."
As the verdict was read in the federal courtroom in Greensboro, N.C., Edwards. 58, smiled, leaned back in his chair and gulped.
After the jury was dismissed, he hugged his daughter Cate Edwards and mother Bobbie Edwards, who broke down in tears.
"It's going to be okay," John told her.
Edwards was charged with illegally using nearly $1 million in unreported campaign contributions to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 bid for the White House.
He was found not guilty on Count 3, concerning a donation to Edwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars by banking heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon in 2008 just before Edwards dropped out of the race.
Edwards, a U.S. Senator who was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee under U.S. Sen. John Kerry in 2004, had faced a possible five-year sentence on each of the counts.
Federal prosecutors called 24 witnesses, including several former aides who offered a behind-the-scenes view of Edwards's affair with Hunter and his efforts to hide the relationship from his wife, Elizabeth, who was battling breast cancer and died in 2010.
Edwards's presidential campaign derailed after reports of the affair first surfaced in October of 2007.
But he continued to lie about the affair and allowed another man, former aide, Andrew Young, to claim paternity of Hunter's daughter – until January of 2010 when he finally admitted he was the girl's father.
The defense argued that Edwards was a liar and a bad husband but not a criminal, because he did not believe money spent by wealthy friends to hide his mistress could be considered campaign contributions.
Additional reporting by WENDY GROSSMAN KANTOR