Sunday, March 18, 2018
News Roundup

Opening statements begin former USAF sergeant's trial in death of ex-lover, baby

LARGO — Early one morning in July 2007, someone attacked Paula O'Conner in her St. Petersburg home.

Strangled, she died on the floor of her 15-month-old son's bedroom. Her attacker turned to the boy, pressing his face into the bottom of his crib until he too stopped breathing.

That person then locked the home's doors, moved her car a few blocks away and left.

Investigators quickly zeroed in on Ralph "Ron" Wright Jr., then an Air Force sergeant, but he wasn't arrested until two years later. His first-degree murder trial began this week.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, say Wright's motive was clear.

Three weeks before the killings, O'Conner had Wright served with papers in the MacDill Air Force Base parking lot informing him that she was suing for child support. Wright wanted to maintain his bachelor lifestyle and avoid thousands of dollars in child care costs, according to Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson.

During his opening statement Wednesday, the prosecutor described Wright, now 44, as a habitual liar who maintained multiple relationships despite being married.

"One person in the world — one person — had a motive to kill Alijah," the prosecutor said. "One person had a motive to kill Paula."

But Wright's attorney, William Bennett, offered an alternate theory. He told jurors that at least one other person had a clear motive to murder Paula and her son.

O'Conner had, among multiple policies, $540,000 in life insurance, $400,000 of which would have gone into a trust for Alijah. Because both she and Alijah died, the money went to O'Conner's then-teenage daughter, Victoria "Tori" Goodin, now 24.

"The facts will show that the baby had to die for Tori to get the $400,000," Bennett said. "Period."

Goodin, he continued, spent all of it in less than a year and a half.

Hellickson told jurors Goodin knew nothing of the policies before her mother's death. Bennett told them she did.

"The only suspect they looked at in this case," Bennett said, "was Ralph Wright."

Mother and daughter had a tenuous relationship, he said. Months before the killings, O'Conner had kicked her daughter out of the house.

The defense attorney said detectives neglected to thoroughly examine O'Conner's daughter, her boyfriend at the time or a number of her friends who could have been involved.

Though she has no convictions, Goodin has been arrested in recent years on charges of drug possession and battery.

Reached Wednesday evening, Goodin, who is now married and uses the last name Christopher, called the defense attorney's assertion that she was the murderer "crazy."

"My mother and my brother were everything to me," she said. "Like any mother and daughter, my mom and I had our disagreements … we were so much alike."

Christopher said she didn't know about the insurance money before her mom's death and said she used part of it to buy a house.

She will be one of as many as 70 witnesses prosecutors will call over the next two weeks to make their case that Wright was the killer.

O'Conner was single and working as an insurance underwriter when she met Wright in January 2004. 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 "secret assignment," a fabrication that Hellickson said Wright also told multiple girlfriends.

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

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. She learned Wright was married and soon after served him with papers.

After the killings, authorities believe Wright put on a pair of gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. Police found a left-hand glove on the arm of a couch near O'Conner's front door.

Forensic tests offered differing results. Hellickson said at least one analysis found DNA inside the glove that matched Alijah and Paula, and also was "consistent" with Wright's.

Although the findings weren't concrete, the glove's origin provided another clue. The glove is identical to those that had been issued to Wright's military police unit, Hellickson said. Those gloves, made of a flame-resistant material called Nomex, were kept in a locked storeroom at the base.

Wright was among a small group with access to that storeroom, the prosecutor said. No records show him checking anything out, but authorities say a security video showed him visit that area about 2 a.m. on July 6, 2007, three to four hours before the slayings.

When questioned by police, Wright denied fathering the boy and said O'Conner had long been "a thorn in my side."

DNA eventually confirmed that Alijah was his son.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jco[email protected]


washington, D.c.U.S., Europewant answersfrom facebookU.S. and European officials on Sunday called for Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how personal information about tens of millions of users ended up in the hands of a data analysi...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Jamaican flavor on the waterfront

Jamaican flavor on the waterfront

Updated: 1 hour ago
Putin rebuffs claimof spy’s poisoning

Putin rebuffs claimof spy’s poisoning

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday dismissed British accusations of Russia’s involvement in an ex-spy’s poisoning as "nonsense," but added that Moscow is ready to cooperate with London in the investigation. In his first comments on t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas sheriff’s lieutenant terminated after DUI charge

Pinellas sheriff’s lieutenant terminated after DUI charge

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s lieutenant was fired after she was charged with driving under the influence, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported.Christi Ruhtz, 41, was first hired by the agency in December 1998 and was working in the Public Re...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Sixth body pulled from rubble

The final body trapped under 950 tons of steel and concrete that once was Florida International University’s pedestrian bridge was retrieved late Saturday night, leaving the death toll at six."I believe that’s the final count," said Miami-Dade Police...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays Journal: Optioning Banda narrows bullpen field, Archer change-up, more

Rays Journal: Optioning Banda narrows bullpen field, Archer change-up, more

PORT CHARLOTTE — Shipping out LHP Anthony Banda on Sunday made clearer who remains in the running for multi-inning jobs in the Rays bullpen.With RHP Matt Andriese a certainty, the Rays now have four other candidates for three jobs in RHP Yonny ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Cirque du Soleil performer dies after fall during Tampa performance

Cirque du Soleil performer dies after fall during Tampa performance

An acrobat who fell some 20 feet during a Tampa Cirque du Soleil performance Saturday night has died from his injuries. Around 9:52 p.m. during the Saturday Volta show, veteran aerialist Yann Arnaud lost his grip on an aerial ring and fell to the st...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays, Andriese serve as hosts for hopeful Heart Gallery adoptee

Rays, Andriese serve as hosts for hopeful Heart Gallery adoptee

RHP Matt Andriese was the tour guide Sunday as the Rays hosted a 10-year-old boy, Joshua, from The Heart Gallery, which works to find adoption matches for foster kids.Joshua had his own locker in the clubhouse, hung out on the field during batting pr...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Updated: 5 hours ago
Some wanted Florida suspect committed in 2016

Some wanted Florida suspect committed in 2016

MIAMI — Officials were so concerned about the mental stability of the student accused of last month’s Florida school massacre that they decided he should be forcibly committed.But the recommendation was never acted upon.A commitment under the law wou...
Updated: 7 hours ago