Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Jury acquits Brandon man in killing of wife's lover

TAMPA — As she learned her septuagenarian husband would not be punished for killing her 32-year-old lover, Johnna Lynn Flores, 41, cried tears of joy.

"I am elated, absolutely elated," Flores said outside the Tampa courtroom where her spouse, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Wald, 70, was acquitted of second-degree murder Thursday.

Once Wald was released from jail, she said, he had promised her a special celebration. "Because my husband puts me first, he's taking me to the Waffle House," Flores said.

It was what amounted to a happy ending for the starring couple in a tragic and inimitably Floridian morality tale involving sex, liquor, self-defense law, erectile dysfunction and a man shot to death with his pants around his knees.

After two days of testimony in Hillsborough Circuit Court, a jury decided Wald committed no crime when he fatally shot Walter Conley, a man less than half his age, on March 10. Wald woke around midnight in his Brandon home and found Conley and Flores having sex on the floor in the living room. He took a .38 revolver from his bedroom and shot Conley in the stomach and head.

Prosecutors argued that Wald, who suffered from erectile dysfunction, killed Conley in a jealous rage when he discovered him with Flores.

"It's a personal insult to conduct that kind of activity in a man's home, his castle. It cuts to the quick. It's brazen," Assistant State Attorney Chris Moody said in closing arguments Thursday. "That kind of deep and personal insult, when you find another man having sex in your living room and you can't, would make you want to lash out. And he did."

However, Wald's attorneys argued he did not recognize Conley — a resident of Lovers Lane in Riverview and old flame of Flores — and shot him thinking he was an intruder raping his wife. They invoked the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law, noting that Wald had "no duty to retreat" when facing perceived danger within his own home.

"This is a military man," said Joe Episcopo, Wald's Tampa-based attorney, noting that Wald had been decorated for valor in combat during the Vietnam War. He said Wald was "trained what you do with the enemy … you take your gun and kill the enemy."

Flores, the surviving central actor in the episode besides Wald, testified she was "black-out" drunk the night of the shooting after consuming a large quantity of cognac and remembered almost nothing.

It took jurors about two hours to reach a verdict.

Episcopo, whose melodramatic touch was on display at the trial — in his closing statement he quoted Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din staring at his client and saying, "You're a better man than I am, Mr. Wald!" — called the outcome appropriate for a man he called a "hero."

"That same Constitution that he defended came to his aid when he needed it," Episcopo said. "He is the kind of American who has made this country great."

Yet there was little glory in the details that emerged over two days of tabloid-ready testimony that focused on Wald's sexless marriage, Flores' drinking problem and the lurid circumstances of the killing.

Testifying Thursday, Wald said he hoped to salvage his marriage despite all of it.

"That's my hope," he said. "I love my wife."

Before the shooting, the couple had agreed to undergo therapy for their sexual problems.

"In fact, she would joke a lot with me … that we were a perfect couple," Wald said. "She didn't want to do it, and I couldn't do it."

But when the trial concluded, and Wald embraced his lawyers, and Flores quietly wiped her eyes, there was a group of men and women who found nothing about what had happened funny. They refused to speak to a Tampa Bay Times reporter, saying they were disgusted with press coverage the case had received.

They were the surviving family members of Walter Conley, and in the seconds after the verdict was read they sat very still, their backs straight against a courtroom bench, holding tight to one another's hands as though the floor had just dropped out beneath their feet.

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments
St. Pete police presence at MLK Day after-party raises concerns

St. Pete police presence at MLK Day after-party raises concerns

ST. PETERSBURG— Several people have complained about police patrols around the celebration in Midtown that follows the city’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, questioning whether a robust law enforcement presence this year was racially m...
Updated: 20 minutes ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

It was record-breaking cold this morning as a deep freeze cast over Tampa Bay.Wind-chill advisories are out as feels-like temperatures sit between a bitter 20 and 30 degrees.Tampa tied its recorded for the lowest temperature of 29 degrees on Jan. 18,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Goodman: We can no longer be silent about immigration reform

Goodman: We can no longer be silent about immigration reform

It is one of those times when we won’t have to wait for the judgment of history to learn the verdict of history.More than 800,000 DACA immigrants now sit, stew and wonder if the land they long yearned for is the great nation they long dreamt about.Th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Clearwater Police are searching for a "man-bun bandit" who is seen stealing packages from a residence.Police on Thursday tweeted this video of the suspect, who is seen attempting to balance multiple packages while gathering them at a home on Majestic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

To no one’s surprise, Amazon on Thursday released its list of location finalists for its second headquarters, and neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg was on it."We knew it was going to be a long shot and a difficult road," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said....
Updated: 2 hours ago

As temperatures fall and rise, Tampa braces for another round of water main breaks

TAMPA — This week’s cold snap is expected to keep the city of Tampa’s utility crews busy over the next few days.The city is bracing for another spike in water main breaks as temperatures climb from this morning’s near record lows and another round of...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Joe Henderson: Leaders can’t job-out responsibility for bad substitute teachers

Joe Henderson: Leaders can’t job-out responsibility for bad substitute teachers

Sometimes, people in authority need a reality check before they can recognize a problem that should have been obvious.In this case, it took a meticulously reported story last Sunday by education writer Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times to alert Hi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Family recalls troubled youth for teen killer, now 39, who seeks new sentence

Family recalls troubled youth for teen killer, now 39, who seeks new sentence

TAMPA — The bearded man with shackled hands sat slumped and weeping as he listened to witness after witness — his mom, aunt and sister among them — recount his childhood of poverty, abuse, and depression.Kyle Moran leaned forward occasionally, stretc...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Winter weather deaths climb to 15 as the South cleans up snow

Winter weather deaths climb to 15 as the South cleans up snow

The deep freeze that shut down much of the South began to relent Thursday as crews salted and cleared roads after a slow-moving storm left ice and snow in places that usually enjoy mild winters. At least 15 people were killed in accidents and frigid ...
Updated: 2 hours ago