Marie Dean Arrington and her flamboyant attorney Edward Kirkland didn’t see eye-to-eye, and Arrington’s defense suffered because of the friction.
Arrington, who was indigent and thus entitled to a court-appointed attorney, didn’t choose the lawyers who defended her. Groveland attorney Arthur Roberts was appointed by the court, but he soon yielded to Kirkland as attorney of record. Kirkland never said who was paying his bill, but he frequently represented central Florida mob boss Harlan Blackburn. Fifteen years after the trial, Arrington admitted to newspaper reporter Al Lee that she worked for Blackburn.
Arrington may have taken payments from Blackburn, but she never warmed to his attorney. “They went, they got Ed Kirkland,” Marie said in a 2012 interview. “Nobody ever told me. I had no choice in that. They went and got him.” She didn’t say who “they” were.
Her biggest complaint involved “Big Joe” Fairfax, the man Arrington said was the actual murderer. In a 2012 interview, Arrington faulted her lawyers for not tracking down “Big Joe”. “Both of my lawyers [Arthur Roberts and Edward Kirkland] say, ‘We searched for [Big Joe], don’t nobody know him.’ He’s a liar. Big Joe was known in Leesburg – in Lake County. You ask anybody there. Kirkland told me — him and that other lawyer, whatever his name was — there was no such person. If I’m lying I hope God strikes me dead this minute. ‘Marie, there’s no such person named ‘Big Joe.’ I said, ‘Oh yes there is. The man was born right there in Leesburg. He stayed not two miles from our house on Mike Street.”
Kirkland remembered things differently when interviewed in 2012. “The evidence was substantial and there was no recognizable defense,” Kirkland said. “She didn’t offer anything I could use. Developing an alibi was just impossible … She was not a difficult client, just terribly unconcerned.”
Evidence survives that contradicts Kirkland’s memory. On June 13, 1968, Arrington mailed a letter to her daughter from the Lake County Jail. Naturally, lawmen opened it and read it. Here’s an excerpt: “And I was driving a white car like the one belonging to Mrs. Ritters. But she [Arrington’s mother Mary] no whose car it was, you no whose car it was … Tell them about the day last year that you and I went to Gainesville, Fla. With this man. Also why, where, and for what reason. You remember the house we went to and what we saw. The man that was there Big J.L. Be sure to tell them everything do not keep back any of it … By the way Big J.L. have other new car the same color, only a latter model.”
Evidentially, “Big Joe” and “Big J.L.” are the same person, although Arrington never explained why she called Fairfax by two different names.
Perhaps Arrington told Kirkland the “Fairfax” tale but he deemed it too incredible to use. Or, he knew presenting a story placing the defendant at the murder scene would be akin to placing her in the electric chair. Prosecutor Gordon Oldham would have blasted a dozen holes in the story, beginning with the obvious question, “Why would Big Joe Fairfax let you live to tell that he murdered June Ritter?” Marie sounded like an accomplice, not an innocent bystander who walked into an abduction in progress.
But Marie continued to insist she wasn’t involved. Kirkland recalled: “She didn’t confess to me and I didn’t ask… Nothing that she told me — even in confidence — would be considered a confession, or a denial, on her part.”
Kirkland didn’t care much for Arrington. In fact, he believed she was guilty of murdering June Ritter. “Developing an alibi was just impossible,” Kirkland recalled. “I would ask her, ‘Where were you on this day?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ Then I’d rephrase the question and ask it another way. ‘Try to think of who you might have been with and what you might have been doing.’ ‘I don’t remember.’”
Arrington didn’t testify at her murder trial. The defense rested without Kirkland calling a single witness. Jury foreman Dale Knott expected as much, but was disappointed he didn’t get to hear Arrington be cross-examined by Oldham. “I was disappointed that she didn’t take the stand, but I wasn’t surprised. Considering the demeanor she displayed during the trial, I think it would have done her more harm than good. Her lawyer was smart not to put her on the stand,” Knott said. “She was very, very cold. No emotion.”