A Southern Gentleman’s Charm and a Keen Legal Mind
Ask Jack Edmund about the number of accused murderers he has defended, and the 63-year-old attorney strokes his gray goatee, props his well-worn cowboy boots atop his desk, lights up a Camel, and ponders the question.
Then he ponders some more.
“After 75,” Edmund finally replies, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “Maybe even 100.” He takes another drag. “Or perhaps more than 100.”
In these seemingly countless cases, Jack Edmund has relied on his Southern charm, the unconventional appearance reminiscent of the Old West in the 1890s, and a deep understanding of the law to turn challenging battles into triumphant victories.
His trial record is the subject of envy among defense lawyers from Tampa to Orlando. He is a thorn in the side of prosecutors and a magnet for clients. The reputation he has garnered is why the family of James Aren Duckett, a former Mascotte police officer, sought his aid last fall when Duckett was accused of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. Edmund will be the one manning the defense table when Duckett goes to trial on Monday.
A Lawyer in High Demand
At his law office, located on the farm where his sons train thoroughbred racehorses, clients continuously line up to consult with him. One of his clients, a family friend, drops by to finalize a divorce. Others, who travel 45 minutes or more for an appointment, keep the reasons for their visits undisclosed.
However, it’s highly likely that they have heard what people like Bartow attorney Jack Wilkins have to say: “If anyone can win, Jack can.”
At one point, Edmund was on an astounding streak, successfully keeping 13 murder defendants from facing the electric chair. He believed he was invincible.
But that all changed with No. 14, just two weeks after he had kicked a long-standing bad habit—alcohol—and that marked the end of his winning run.
Despite having a client condemned to death row, Edmund stayed away from liquor (attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for years) and rebuilt his reputation as a formidable defense attorney.
“I find homicides to be the most captivating cases,” said Edmund, casually dressed in blue jeans, boots, and a Western shirt, relaxing behind his handmade desk made of sequoia and driftwood. “It’s the pinnacle for any defense lawyer.”
However, Edmund has faced losses too. One of his clients, Thomas Provenzano, was found guilty in 1984 of shooting an Orange County Courthouse bailiff. Provenzano currently resides on death row.
“I never pass moral judgment on my clients,” declared Edmund. “If someone seeks your defense, you have a sworn duty to represent their case.”
Unconventional Defense Tactics
When it comes to his defense strategies, Edmund takes a unique approach. Unlike many other attorneys, he conducts very few pretrial depositions with prosecution witnesses. Edmund believes that the deposition process only helps the state’s case, allowing them to strengthen it. Instead, he prefers a “trial by ambush,” where even the state is taken by surprise.
Last August, Edmund made headlines with one of his surprising moves.
Daniel Otte, a 19-year-old from Polk County, was accused of fatally shooting a Kissimmee taxi cab driver. The first trial ended in a hung jury. But just a week later, the main witness for the state called Edmund’s office and retracted her testimony, which claimed Otte had confessed to her. She admitted that she made the statement after a detective threatened to take her child away if she didn’t cooperate.
Otte was ultimately acquitted during his second trial.
Neil Arther, the prosecutor in the case and a former Osceola County assistant state attorney, is not a fan of Jack Edmund.
“I have zero respect for his tactics,” stated Arther, who is now the city attorney in Kissimmee. “I still have serious doubts about the manner in which he procured his evidence.”
Edmund shares that sentiment. “They concocted evidence right from the beginning,” Edmund countered. “And he lied about me during the trial.”
A Life Devoted to Law and Horses
Edmund earned his law degree in 1955 by attending night classes at the University of Miami. During the day, he supported his family by working various odd jobs as a bill collector, liquor runner, car salesman, and even a ditch-digger. He also moonlighted as a singer in a strip joint.
Throughout his life, his greatest passion has been horses. He resides in a log house and converted the stalls of a barn on his horse farm, Challenge Farm in Fort Meade, into his office.
Edmund, who will turn 64 next month, has no intentions of retiring to the farm and leaving the courtroom behind. “There’s something about being in court that I simply love.”