TAMPA — The defendant didn't beg the judge for mercy. The victim's family didn't lose sleep over what-ifs. Everybody knew what was going to happen at the Friday sentencing, and that didn't make it any less significant.
Ronny Walker, 32, was sentenced to life in prison for the 2003 home invasion robbery death of Elaine Caldwell, a grandmother who was in her bedroom perming her hair when she saw a stranger with a gun and screamed.
Walker had been out of prison for 10 days when he entered her home with a gun, emptied her boyfriend's pockets and corralled him and her 9-year-old granddaughter in the bedroom to find more. That's when Caldwell saw him.
He told her to stop screaming, but she continued. So in front of her family, he shot her in the head.
Police had eyewitnesses but no DNA, fiber or fingerprint evidence putting Walker in Caldwell's home. They continued to investigate as Walker served a prison sentence on unrelated drug convictions. Then in 2009, almost six years after Caldwell died, prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder.
Her family sat through the first trial and watched a jury return, undecided.
They wondered what would happen when prosecutors offered Walker five years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. They learned that at least twice he turned them down.
They gathered for a second trial, this time on a downgraded charge of second-degree murder, and again listened as Caldwell's boyfriend, Raymond Lee, recounted the murder.
Then they watched a jury leave to deliberate, and waited.
On May 5, a jury convicted Walker of manslaughter, burglary and robbery with a firearm. As a prison release reoffender, the sentence prescribed by Florida law was life.
Twenty of her family members watched it happen.
"Mr. Walker," said Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battle, "today you'll be held to account for the vicious crime. Justice is a long time coming for Elaine Caldwell, her family and for you."
Walker's public defender announced his plan to appeal.
But Caldwell's family left Walker behind Friday.
"Finally," daughter Tina Boggs said, "it's coming to an end."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.