David Freedman, one of Winston-Salem’s most prominent criminal-defense attorneys, died Friday from complications from the COVID-19 virus.
He was 64. He was hospitalized about two weeks ago at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. Freedman had been vaccinated.
“He was loved by people who were on the other side as well as his clients and everybody else,” said Dudley Witt, a longtime friend and his law partner.
Witt said Freedman was respected for his professional integrity.
Freedman, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, was a partner at Freedman Thompson Witt Ceberio & Byrd PLLC. According to his obituary, Business North Carolina named Freedman as the state’s best criminal-defense attorney in 2006 and he was listed 15 straight years by Best Lawyers in America.
He was a past president of the Forsyth County Bar Association and received the Harvey Lupton award from the Forsyth County Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers Association.
The tall, silver-haired attorney was a frequent presence in courtrooms, both at the state and federal level, all over North Carolina, and he was involved in some of the most high-profile criminal cases in recent history. Included among his clients was Keith Carter, who was tried for first-degree murder and convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Sgt. Howard Plouff of the Winston-Salem Police Department. Plouff was killed outside the former Red Rooster Club on Kester Mill Road.
Freedman also represented Michael Decker, a former state legislator who pleaded guilty to charges of accepting a $50,000 bribe to change political parties. Most recently, in a case that garnered national and international attention, Freedman was one of the attorneys for Thomas Martens, who was convicted, along with his daughter, Molly Corbett, for second-degree murder in the death of Molly’s husband, Irish businessman Jason Corbett. Freedman argued before both the N.C. Court of Appeals and the N.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Martens. Both courts overturned the murder convictions of Molly Corbett and Martens.
Those who knew him said Freedman loved what he did and loved his family — his wife, Libby, and their four children, Jack, Gary, Ariel and Chai. Ariel has just started law school at UNC Chapel Hill, according to Witt.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said he and Freedman were close friends “even though we fought on opposite sides of the courtroom.”
“It was not uncommon after a grueling trial against one another that you would find us lifting weights together at the YMCA on a Saturday morning,” O’Neill said Saturday. “David served as a groomsman in my wedding, and we would talk every day about politics, legal theories and our families. We referred to one another as blood brothers.”
O’Neill said Freedman was loved by everyone in the legal community and that he was revered and respected.
“I am just devastated and saddened at the loss of my friend and I pray for God’s peace to come soon because I simply have no tears left to shed,” he said.
Freedman was born in Asheville and moved to Winston-Salem after he obtained his law degree in 1982. He began a solo practice and then joined what was then known as White & Crumpler, which changed names several times until it became Crumpler Freedman Parker & Witt. Last year, that firm merged with another to form Freedman Thompson Witt Ceberio & Byrd PLLC.
Witt said he and Freedman met while in law school.
“His professional life has been nothing but exemplary,” Witt said Saturday.
Judges, prosecutors and other criminal-defense attorneys had nothing but respect for him, Witt said.
Walter C. Holton Jr., former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, first met Freedman while they practiced together at White & Crumpler. Holton worked closely with Freedman while Holton represented Molly Corbett.
“I think David accomplished his goals in life, which was first of all to have a wonderful and beautiful family and second to have a successful career that has continued to grow and third to have an impeccable reputation,” he said.
Holton said Freedman handled pressure well and that had a lot to do with the fact that Freedman was comfortable with what he was doing and that he loved what he was doing.
Freedman was also an active member at Temple Emmanuel, according to Rabbi Mark Cohn. Freedman served as president of Temple Emmanuel, Cohn said.
“He was an integral part of our community and he has been a real leader both on the board and off the board and he has been a tremendous support to me as well,” he said Saturday.
Cohn described Freedman as wise and thoughtful and said his legal practice was heavily influenced by Jewish teachings. Freedman always sought balance in how he practiced in the criminal justice system, Cohn said.
“He had a heart of gold, and he just adored his children,” he said. “Nothing held a candle to his kids and his wife. He was a very loving man.”