On Monday, the FBI didn’t get what it was after. The agents had hoped that Young would get money from Edelman over the weekend, with fingerprints, and then pay Hubbell with that money. But again, inexplicably, the FBI decided not to tail Young and Edelman, though the sting was nearing its climax. Then on Monday, July 27, before Young met Hubbell at the Unocal 76 truck stop in Rockwall, Young went to his bank and took out two loans totaling $5,000. Then Young paid Hubbell with his own money. He explained to Hubbell in the truck stop that he couldn’t get in touch with "the guy."
In the car, after his arrest, Young told FBI agents that the money was his and that the only way he could tie "the guy" to the murder was if they gave him immunity and let him go try to get money from him.
But by that time, the FBI had already arrested Robert Edelman.
When the jury in the Edelman case retired to deliberate a verdict, the feeling in the courtroom was electric. Defense attorney Steve Sumner’s case was so convincing that at the close of his final arguments, one juror was crying as she nodded along with Sumner’s affirmations of Robert Edelman’s innocence. Virtually everyone in the courtroom was sure that Robert Edelman would be a free man in a matter of days. In a surprising move at the end of the trial, Judge Barefoot Sanders turned to Robert Edelman and told him that Sumner had provided him with a fine defense. Prosecutor Mark Nichols says he was unhappy with his own closing arguments. While the jury was still out, reporters asked Sumner to approve statements to the press regarding Edelman’s acquittal. Even the U.S. marshals who escorted Edelman throughout the trial assured him that he would walk, that the federal case had been a farce. But within three hours, a jury of six women and six men convicted Robert Edelman of masterminding the plot to murder his wife.
Steve Sumner—who is perhaps best known for his successful defense last summer of Cullen Davis in a civil case filed by his ex-wife Priscilla—had led a stunning defense. Sumner was in prime form, having racked up nine straight acquittals. In the Edelman case, Sumner had a two-part strategy: to point out what was missing from the government’s case, and to show that it was feasible for James Young to have acted on his own, intending to blackmail Robert Edelman. There was no corroborating witness telling the jury that Robert had confessed his intentions to murder Linda. There was no tape of Edelman and Young discussing the murder. There were no fingerprints connecting Edelman and the photographs shown in the Chinese restaurant. There was no money up front—Young had paid Hubbell with his own money. These were the major punches in Sumner’s warmup; next he attacked the FBI evidence head on.
The Photographs—Robert Edelman says there never was a second contract with James Young. After the contract with Young was terminated in June, Edelman says that Young called him and told him he had "definitive information" on the boyfriend. He wanted to meet on July 16 at the Chinese restaurant to show Edelman this information and to clear out his bill. Edelman still owed Young $1,500 for following Linda and the children to Florida earlier in the summer. Even though Young says that Edelman wanted Linda killed when she wasn’t with the kids, Young testified that Edelman wanted him to murder Linda during the Florida trip—another inconsistency in his story. He says he told Edelman that he couldn’t find Linda in Florida because he didn’t want to go through with the murder. Edelman says Young was following Linda to Florida because he suspected a boyfriend might be going along.
According to Edelman’s version of the meeting, Young was showing him pictures of a man in front of the Cartier store at the Galleria. Edelman says that Young told him he had followed Linda Edelman and this man, whom he supposed was her boyfriend, to the Galleria. Edelman says he asked for a copy of the pictures, but Young told him he "didn’t have any more prints."
Edelman says that when he left the Chinese restaurant on July 16, Young got in the car with him uninvited and continued to push his services in pursuing the boyfriend. "He was a persuasive salesman," Edelman says, explaining that he didn’t need Young’s services any more.
In the trial, Steve Sumner’s assisting attorney, Rex Gunter, asked the FBI agent who sat next to Edelman and Young in the restaurant whether he heard Robert Edelman raise his voice and ask Young, "What do you mean showing me pictures now of the woman you were supposed to be following for eight months?" The FBI agent, without cracking a smile, said he didn’t hear those words, either. Young had testified earlier in the trial that Edelman had given him a picture of Linda and the children on the night they supposedly first talked about the murder. It didn’t make sense that Young would have to identify the target this late in the game—after all, he had been following this woman since October.
The Telephone Call—On July 21, the day James Young was told that Linda Edelman was dead, Robert Edelman says he had a cookout at his house for some friends, a business associate, and his children, along with Diana Key and a girlfriend of hers. Later, Edelman’s parents came over to visit the grandchildren. They left about 10 p.m., Edelman says, and then he put Kathleen and Stephen to bed.
Edelman says that when he has guests, he doesn’t answer the phone but lets his housekeeper take messages. That night, he says he didn’t take any calls, and he doesn’t remember any messages from the housekeeper or left on the answering machine.
The Bank Records—Steve Sumner used bank records to establish a pattern of spending for Robert upwards of $5,000 a month that began shortly after Linda filed for divorce and continued until the time of his arrest—without any deviation during the time he supposedly paid James Young $21,000. Edelman says he spent his cash mostly on expenses associated with running his house on Pagewood, and that he started dealing in cash to be less accountable to Linda. In April, Edelman’s cash withdrawals did jump to $14,800. He says that month he paid $7,000 in cash for a pair of earrings for Diana Key. Only two of nine payment dates correspond to Edelman’s cash withdrawals and one of those Edelman admits to. He says he did pay Young $1,500 on July 16 at the meeting at the Chinese restaurant. In the eight months that Young was in his employ, Edelman says, he paid Young a total of between $5,000 and $7,000.
Why would Robert Edelman want to kill his wife? For one reason, says the prosecution, to gain full custody of his children. But Steve Sumner painted a picture of a custody battle winding down, if not near settlement. Further, Sumner showed that Robert Edelman never had tried to get full custody of his children, and, in fact, didn’t want it. Diana Key had no interest in raising small children. Further, Sumner said in the trial, Robert and Diana were planning for Linda Edelman to be alive in the fall. They were making marriage plans to follow the September 14 trial date with Linda.
That motive damaged, the prosecution leaned on motive number two: money. Robert Edelman wanted to kill his wife to keep her from getting a chunk of his considerable estate, the prosecution maintained. So, Sumner raised this question to the jury: wouldn’t a woman who hated her husband, who had battled for more than two years over the custody of her children, change her will? Robert was certainly sophisticated enough, Sumner maintained, to realize this and know that Linda’s parents, with whom he had a hostile relationship, would contest his taking over the entire estate. Plus, with the failing real estate market, the Edelmans’ estate was considerably diminished. The prosecution itself introduced this piece of evidence: that according to some of Edelman’s financial statements, his wealth had fallen from $6 million in early 1985 to $750,000 in the fall of 1986.
More mystifying is the question of why James Young would want to kill Linda Edelman. According to Sumner, Young hoped to ingratiate himself with Robert Edelman, whom the prosecution had called Young’s "rich man on the line." Young was losing his "rich man on the line," and he wasn’t above blackmail to keep him, Sumner says. Young repeatedly tried to keep his association with Edelman alive by calling him up with new information even after their contract was terminated in June. Young told the FBI undercover agent at one of their meetings that he didn’t mess with blackmail, but: "I just go ahead and do it. And once in a while these characters they give me a gift."
And what about the money for the hit? Doesn’t that usually come up front? Even the FBI was perplexed about that. Young had repeatedly been questioned by Zabitosky and Hubbell about money up front, and each time he answered that he did not have any money up front for this job. Young said that’s just the way he worked—that he "knew these guys," so they paid him.
"Who benefits from Linda Edelman’s death?" Sumner asked the jury. "Young’s going to benefit. He’s going to own Robert Edelman. In that sick mind of James Young, he is going to benefit."
In the end, it came down to one thing. The jury either had to believe Edelman or Young. Both men were shown to have lied. Young admitted to having lied extensively during much of his adult life. During Young’s testimony on the witness stand he contradicted himself over and over again, and he was directly contradicted by more credible witnesses. He told the jury that a police badge he carried had been given to him by a policeman, the son-in-law of a woman Young was dating and later married just days before his arrest. The man, Steve Escalante, who was a member of the Heath police department and now works for the city of Heath administration, says that he didn’t give Young the police badge but that Young had plenty of opportunity to steal it while visiting his mother-in-law. Escalante says Young was also suspected of stealing money from his family and one of their friends.
But the prosecution scored points by bringing up a statement from Edelman in an interrogatory during his custody battle, Edelman had sworn in the document that he did not hire a private investigator.
Both Young and Edelman lacked key corroborative evidence to support their stories. Young had told the jury that early on in the murder plot, he and Edelman had met in the Howard Johnson’s near his office, spread blueprints of the Caruth house out on the table, and planned the murder scheme. But in Young’s apartment, office, and car, the FBI found no blueprints. The FBI never searched Young’s new house in Rockwall, bought just weeks before he was arrested, where he had moved the majority of his belongings. The house is empty now; Young’s daughter has moved its contents back to Illinois, where she lives. Young says he burned the blueprints.
Also absent from the evidence are the photographs of the boyfriend that Edelman says he saw in the Chinese restaurant.
Certainly all of the questions regarding this case were not answered for the jury that convicted Robert Edelman. In the end, they chose to believe James Young. After the jury delivered its verdict, spectators were told that the jury dwelled on several key points: that Young was incapable of planning the murder on his own; that Edelman was vague about the money he paid Young; and that Robert Edelman acted as if he were too good to answer the prosecutor’s questions. Once again, the "asshole factor" came into play. Edelman’s slick, sarcastic wit dominated his responses to the prosecutor’s questions, and apparently the jury didn’t like it. But perhaps most enlightening is another juror’s observation: that the defense didn’t prove Robert Edelman’s innocence.
"Whatever happened to the defendant being presumed innocent?" Sumner says. "It just made me want to stick my hand through the wall when I heard that. That’s why I argued the defense the way I did, pointing out to the jury everything the prosecution didn’t bring them. For a normal, reasonable person, that should at least produce a hesitation if not a reasonable doubt. I really think we could go back in that courtroom with a different jury and get an acquittal, and that is really tragic."