Nobody disputes that on the night 20 years ago that his ex-wife vanished mysteriously, South Florida pawnshop owner Clifford Friend was discovered on a boat dumping something into the Atlantic Ocean.
And on Friday night, after more than four hours of deliberations, jurors decided that Friend indeed was to blame for murdering Lynne Friend and dumping her body at sea.
The verdict came after a drama-filled two-week trial, and two decades after Lynne Friend’s disappearance riveted the public and spurred a massive police probe.
Her corpse has never been found.
Friend and his family remained emotionless when the court clerk read the verdict. He will be sentenced at a later date.
He was originally charged with first-degree murder, but jurors found him guilty of a lesser charge of second-degree murder.
“Justice is served,” prosecutor Michael Von Zamft said after the verdict. “It’s a vindication of the fact that he killed her and took her away from her son for 20-plus years.”
Friend, a 58-year-old pawnshop owner from Lighthouse Point, was long the suspect but was not indicted until March 2012.
Lynne Friend, a hospital administrator from Hallandale Beach, was about to move to Tennessee to marry her fiancé when she went missing in August 1994. A judge had just given her permission to take her 5-year-old son Christian out of state.
Prosecutors say the decision enraged Clifford Friend, who vowed “no one” would take his son from him. The night she disappeared, Lynne Friend told her fiancé that she was going to her ex-husband’s North Miami Beach house to pick up a child-support check.
There, prosecutors said, Friend strangled her in what was a calculated plan.
“The love for a son does not excuse or justify murder,” prosecutor Marie Mato told jurors Friday. “Lynne Friend loved her son just as much as he did, and she had every right to see her son grow up, graduate, go to prom and do all the things that children do.”
Christian Friend, now 25, who was ultimately raised by his father, attended the trial and showed no reaction to the verdict.
Investigators say Clifford Friend and his pal, Alan Gold, were caught almost red-handed the night Lynne Friend disappeared.
Federal customs agents stopped Friend and Gold, on their 30-foot Chapparal boat, seven miles east of Miami Beach. The agents saw the men dumping something — but no body was ever found. The men insisted that only towels had gone overboard.
Lynne’s car, its tire slashed, was later found abandoned in a field in Northeast Miami-Dade.
At trial, Lynne Friend’s fiancé, Ed O’Dell, testified emotionally about the life the pair had hoped to build together — and his frantic calls to her home after she vanished.
The star witness was Gold, who received immunity for his role as an accessory to murder. In brash and at times sarcastic testimony, he told jurors that Friend frantically summoned him to his home that night.
When Gold arrived that night, he said he saw a large duffel bag on the floor. Friend said he had gotten angry during an argument with Lynne Friend, “choked out” the woman and stuffed her in the bag, Gold said.
The two loaded the bag on their boat, which had been docked at a marina outside Gold’s Miami Beach apartment. When Gold saw the wake of the customs boat approaching, they hurried to dump the bag, which had been weighted down with an anchor, he testified.
Defense lawyer Peter Heller ripped into Gold, pointing out inconsistencies in his story and claiming he concocted the tale to avoid any potential criminal charges. Heller suggested that Gold was out on the boat with Friend not to dump a body but for another nefarious reason.
“They’re out there to do a drug deal,” Heller said.
Von Zamft acknowledged that Gold, who served as Friend’s character witness in the court custody battle, was no angel but insisted that his story was rock solid.
“As unrepentant a sinner as you’re ever going to see,” Von Zamft said. “He was disgusting. But whose friend was he?”