Saturday, September 22, 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
Rays journal: Blue Jays spoil wild-card bid

Rays journal: Blue Jays spoil wild-card bid

TORONTO — There was no drama, no emotional rescues after Saturday's game.After feeling, appropriately, crushed after they gave away Thursday's game, blowing a six-run lead in the ninth, then bouncing back Friday, the Rays on Saturday faced a st...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A win for what ails the Seminoles

A win for what ails the Seminoles

TALLAHASSEE — For a moment early Saturday evening, it looked as if Willie Taggart was up to old tricks, running it up as he was wont to do when he had USF on the rise and feeling it.Here we go again?Northern Illinois was beaten for sure. The Hu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

How Booger McFarland rose from a Tampa FM station to ‘Monday Night Football’

TAMPA — When Booger McFarland auditioned for the new Monday Night Football broadcast team, producer Jay Rothman was blown away."I closed my eyes and said, 'Holy (bleep), I feel like I'm listening to football's Charles Barkley,'' Rothman said.Si...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF standout returner Terrence Horne out with torn ACL

USF standout returner Terrence Horne out with torn ACL

TAMPA — USF will be without one of its top playmakers tonight against East Carolina and the rest of the season.Receiver and standout returner Terrence Horne is out after tearing his right ACL in practice this week. He's watching pregame wa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
20 things about Mr. 20 Blake Snell, including, yes, blocking his mom on his phone

20 things about Mr. 20 Blake Snell, including, yes, blocking his mom on his phone

TORONTO — Twenty things about Blake Snell as he takes the mound Sunday for the first time as a 20-game winner.Snell …• Is the first 20-game winner in the majors since 2016.• Will have the fewest innings of any 20-game winner i...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays Tales: And the winners are …

Rays Tales: And the winners are …

This season won't end up among the most successful in the Rays' 21-year franchise history, but I'd make the case it might be the most interesting.From the winter/spring purge of the veterans, dire predictions for 100-plus losses, frigid 1-8/4-13 star...
Updated: 2 hours ago
N’Kosi Perry sparks No. 21 Miami past FIU, 31-17

N’Kosi Perry sparks No. 21 Miami past FIU, 31-17

MIAMI — Miami coach Mark Richt’s decision to send quarterback N’Kosi Perry into the game on the Hurricanes’ third possession Saturday was easy. His next decision might be tougher. Perry came off the bench to throw for 224 yards and three touchdowns, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

Lightning forward prospect Boris Katchouk putting together strong preseason

TAMPA — As the end of training camp looms, there's no clear-cut answer as to how the Lightning will fill the one, maybe two open forward spots in its lineup.It could go with Adam Erne. Spending much of his time in AHL Syracuse the past three se...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Legendary Tampa criminal defense attorney Barry Cohen dies at 79

Legendary Tampa criminal defense attorney Barry Cohen dies at 79

TAMPA — The accused and the wronged beat a path to Barry Cohen’s door. The tenacious, canny criminal defense attorney took on pharmaceutical giants and law enforcement agencies. When judges and attorneys needed representation, they often...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Where MegaCon Tampa Bay cosplayers go when their outfit breaks: the ‘Cospital’

Where MegaCon Tampa Bay cosplayers go when their outfit breaks: the ‘Cospital’

TAMPA — Imagine spending hours of labor, or an arm and a leg, on a costume of your favorite character and traveling across the country for a convention — only for it to tear or break or come apart when you get there.It’s a nightmare scenario for cosp...
Updated: 3 hours ago