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Former Air Force sergeant goes on trial for killing former girlfriend, baby

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly six years ago, authorities say, former Air Force Sgt. Ralph "Ron" Wright Jr. strangled his ex-lover and suffocated their 15-month-old child.

Beginning this week, Wright, 44, will go on trial for the murders. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a complex case that's expected to last three weeks and possibly host more than 70 witnesses. Jury selection may take up to two days.

Wright met Paula O'Conner in January 2004. She was single and working as an insurance underwriter. He said he was divorced with a 10-year-old son. She never met his family, and he often left her to go on what he called a "secret assignment" for the military.

When she became pregnant in 2005, O'Conner later wrote, Wright disappeared all together.

Alijah was born on April 9, 2006. He suffered from numerous medical problems that O'Conner couldn't afford to treat on her own.

O'Conner, who later detailed her problems with Wright on a website, hired a private investigator to find him. Then she learned Wright was married.

Three weeks before the murders, she had Wright served with papers in the MacDill Air Force Base parking lot informing him that she was suing him for child support.

Later, when questioned by police in the murder investigation, Wright denied fathering her child. But DNA confirmed Alijah was his son.

Much of the case may hinge on DNA evidence. Prosecutors are expected to call as many as three forensic experts, and Wright's attorneys will likely call at least one.

After the killings, police believe, Wright put on a pair of gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. One of the black gloves — the left — was found on the arm of a couch near the front door of the victims' St. Petersburg home, records state.

Forensic tests of the glove by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found DNA from Wright and no one else inside, according to an affidavit.

But forensic tests by a Pennsylvania laboratory found DNA inside the glove that matched the victims, and nothing that matched Wright's DNA.

Although the findings offered conflicting stories, the glove's origin provided another clue. The glove "is identical to a small number of gloves issued to the defendant's military police unit," the investigators wrote. Those gloves, made of a flame-resistant material called Nomex, were kept in a locked storeroom at the base.

Wright had access to that storeroom, according to an affidavit. No records show him checking any out, but authorities say a security video showed Wright visited that area about 2 a.m. on July 6, 2007, three to four hours before the slayings.

Wright is being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Former Air Force sergeant goes on trial for killing former girlfriend, baby 01/13/13 [Last modified: Sunday, January 13, 2013 10:55pm]
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