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Justice Department decides not to retry John Edwards

Federal prosecutors will not retry John Edwards on campaign finance charges after a six-week trial ended in a hung jury.

The U.S. Department of Justice dropped all remaining charges against the former presidential candidate late Wednesday saying it was in the best interest of justice.

Last month, 12 jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict on five of the six counts against Edwards. The Greensboro, N.C., jury found Edwards not guilty on one charge that he received an illegal campaign contribution from 101-year-old Virginia heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.

“We knew that this case – like all campaign finance cases – would be challenging,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement. “But it is our duty to bring hard cases when we believe that the facts and the law support charging a candidate for high office with a crime.”

If he had been found guilty, Edwards, 58, could have received a five-year prison sentence for each count.

Edwards’ lawyers released a joint statement saying that they were grateful the Justice Department would not seek another trial.

Calling the prosecution’s case a “novel theory,” the lawyers – Abbe Lowell, Allison Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan – said the matter never should have been handled by the courts and would more appropriately be resolved by the Federal Election Commission.

“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 confident that the outcome of any new trial would have been the same. 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.”

Lawyers estimate the Justice Department and U.S. Attorneys’ office spent more than $2 million on their two-year investigation into whether Edwards violated campaign finance law in his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Prosecutors alleged that Edwards conspired to secretly obtain more than $900,000 from two wealthy donors in order to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.

Thousands of exhibits were introduced during the trial at the Greensboro federal courthouse, including a taped TV interview in which Edwards lied about being the father of Hunter’s baby.

The jurors deliberated for nearly two weeks. One juror, Cindy Aquaro, said they spent days trying to determine whether any of the $900,000 could be considered a campaign donation.

Aquaro told The (Raleigh) News & Observer she would not recommend retrying the case.

In his statement, Breuer said the government respected the jurors’ decision.

“In the interest of justice, we have decided not to retry Mr. Edwards on those counts,” he said.

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