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Suit: MacDill officials lied to woman about sergeant who was later accused of killing her

TAMPA — A former sergeant at MacDill Air Force Base awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges worked at base security despite two failed jobs in civilian law enforcement, a lawsuit says.

The estate of Paula O'Conner and her son, Alijah, filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the government and O'Conner's alleged lover and killer, former Air Force Sgt. Ralph Daniel Wright Jr.

Wright, 44, awaits trial in Pinellas County for the 2007 strangulation death of O'Conner and 15-month-old Alijah, whose bodies were found in O'Conner's St. Petersburg home.

Wright quickly fell under suspicion after police learned O'Conner had sued Wright for paternity and said on a website she created, deadbeatmilitarydads.com, that he denied responsibility for the child.

The suit claims the Air Force did not adequately investigate Wright's background before assigning him to a military police job at MacDill and, as a result, did not know he had lost two previous law enforcement jobs.

One of those jobs was as a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which fired Wright after labeling him "administrative unfavorable," said the lawsuit, which provided no other detail about why he was discharged.

The lawsuit also says MacDill personnel misled O'Conner about Wright's whereabouts as she tried to get financial help from him for the child, first when she was pregnant and after she gave birth to the baby in 2006. The child, which she said Wright fathered, was born in poor health and required thousands of dollars in medical care.

Wright's MacDill colleagues told O'Conner that Wright was off base on "special assignment," according to the lawsuit.

O'Conner also visited Wright's commander, who is not identified in the suit, "advising him of ... her dire financial situation and telling him she needed money for her and the fetus and needed to know (Wright's) whereabouts," the lawsuit says.

But the commander refused to help, the lawsuit says. Later, the lawsuit says, the Red Cross told O'Conner that Wright had not left MacDill.

Wright denied paternity and refused to help O'Conner, who eventually filed a paternity case against him, according to the suit.

O'Conner, an insurance underwriter, met Wright in 2004. Three weeks before the killings, she had Wright served with papers at MacDill informing him she had filed suit seeking child support.

O'Conner said Wright hadn't told her that he was already married and had a family.

Wright has pleaded not guilty to two first-degree murder charges. His trial is set for early 2013.

An attorney for O'Conner's estate, which includes her parents, said Friday the family would not comment. MacDill officials did not return a message seeking comment.

Suit: MacDill officials lied to woman about sergeant who was later accused of killing her 09/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 12:05am]
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