W. Fred Turner (April 17, 1922 – November 23, 2003) was an American attorney. He successfully defended Clarence Earl Gideon in his retrial after the Gideon v. Wainwright case overturned his conviction. The story behind this case was told in Anthony Lewis's 1964 book Gideon's Trumpet. Discussion of Turner's role is in the Epilogue, pages 234-250.
Turner was born in Millville, Florida, now part of Panama City. He joined the Army Air Corps after high school and was a supply officer in the 308th Bombardment Group during World War II. He rose to the rank of captain before leaving for the University of Florida. He graduated in 1948 and returned to Bay County, Florida to practice law.
Clarence Earl Gideon was a drifter convicted of petty theft from a pool hall; at the trial he was denied a lawyer. His appeal to the Supreme Court was accepted, and the decision ordered that lawyers be provided in all criminal cases. Gideon's conviction was not overturned, but he was to be tried again.
Turner was Gideon's lawyer in this second trial. By destroying the credibility of the prosecution's key witness through exposing contradictions with other eyewitnesses and the witness's self-admittedly false statements (such as about his prior criminal record), Turner won an acquittal for Gideon.
Turner and Gideon
Gideon chose Turner to be his lawyer for his second trial. The retrial took place on August 5, 1963, five months after the Supreme Court ruling. Turner, during the trial, picked apart the testimony of eyewitness Henry Cook. The attorney in his opening and closing statements suggested the idea that Cook likely had been a lookout for a group of young men who broke in to steal beer, then grabbed the coins while they were at it. Turner also got an important statement from the cab driver who took Gideon from Bay Harbor, Florida to a bar in Panama City, Florida: Gideon was carrying neither wine, beer nor Coke when he picked him up, even though Cook testified that he watched Gideon walk from the pool hall to the phone, then wait for a cab.
The jury acquitted Gideon after a mere one hour of deliberation.
Turner worked as a private attorney until 1979, when he was elected to a circuit judge seat. At age 70, he retired from the bench in 1991. His wife Helen died in 1997. Turner died at age 81 at his home in Panama City, Florida.