Clifford Friend was sentenced to life in September 2012, around two decades after her wife, Lynne, mysteriously disappeared in Broward County, Florida, in August 1994. While her family steadfastly blamed Clifford for her death and the court shared the same view, the couple’s son, Christian, insisted on his father’s innocence. NBC’s ‘Dateline: What Lies Beneath’ features Christian Friend advocating for Clifford and recounting what happened when he was a child in 1994 summer. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s what we know.
Who is Christian Friend?
Christian Friend was born to Lynne Ann Friend and Clifford Brett Friend in Broward County, Florida, in the late 1980s. He was five when his mother, Lynne, won full custody after embroiling in a court battle following a bitter divorce with her former husband of six years. She planned on moving from southeastern Florida to Tennessee to marry her fiancé, Ed O’Dell, after the court permitted her to move out of the state with Christian in late August 1994. However, she disappeared without a trace on August 28, 1994.
Lynne’s family, including her fiancé, Ed, and her friend, Esther Sanchez, pointed the finger at Clifford. He was the last person she visited on August 28, days before she planned to quit her administrator job at Parkway Regional Hospital and move to Tennessee. Clifford had allegedly called her and requested a meeting at his home to pick up his child support check. While the authorities initially found no evidence of foul play, suspicions were quickly cast on Clifford after he was spotted disposing of a duffel bag into the sea on August 28.
US Coastal Guard witnessed Clifford and a friend, Alan Gold, toss a large duffle bag off Clifford’s 30-foot boat into the Atlantic Ocean around 11:30 am. While the authorities could not gather ample evidence to warrant an arrest, Clifford gained Christian’s full custody and moved on with his life. However, the case was re-opened 16 years later in 2010, and he was arrested on first-degree murder charges in 2012. The prosecution produced Alan and a jailhouse snitch as their prime witnesses in his 2014 murder trial.
Even as Lynne’s family and friends rallied behind the prosecution, Christian, then 25, publicly defended his father in media and court. Christian claimed he did not remember his biological mother and insisted he was “offended” by his father’s critics. He told the presiding Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler that he believed Clifford was innocent and insisted his stepmother, Janet, raised him with maternal love.
Where is Christian Friend Now?
Christian testified, “He (Clifford) is the best person I know. He raised me and taught me right from wrong.” He added, “I know he loved me. He loved me too much to hurt me by taking my mother from me. After sitting here for weeks, I have never been more sure of his innocence.” However, the judge refused to sway by the emotional statements and sentenced Clifford to life in early September 2014. Christian sat firmly in a courtroom gallery, seemingly unmoved, when his late mother’s fiancé addressed him during a victim impact statement.
Ed said he remembered Christian as a “very bright, beautiful, happy, curious child” who adored his mother. Addressing him, the grieving fiancé added, “She gave you life. She nourished you. She cared for you. She healed you when you were sick. Everything she did, she did for your benefit.” Judge Pooler also expressed sympathy for Christian and said, “I hope one day he understands what he has lost.” After the sentencing, Christian and his family — escorted by bodyguards — refused to talk to reporters.
The prosecutor, Von Zamft, stated he was satisfied with the verdict. However, he added, “If you watched anything today in the sentencing, the most disappointing and depressing part was the reaction of the son who still does not acknowledge his father cold-bloodedly killed his mother and took her out of his life.” Christian defended his father in the episode as he reminisced about his childhood memories while growing up with him. Now in his mid-30s, the Florida State University graduate lives in Tallahassee, Florida.