TAMPA — Ronny Walker gambled with his life and lost.
At least twice, the murder suspect turned down a prosecutor's offer of five years in prison in exchange for a plea of guilt in the 2003 shooting of Elaine Caldwell. He wanted to go to trial.
On Wednesday, a jury convicted him of manslaughter, burglary and robbery with a firearm.
Now, he faces life in prison.
The victim's daughters left the courtroom as soon as they heard the verdict.
"Thank you, Jesus!" they shouted.
Just steps away in a bathroom, the killer's mother unleashed a wail.
The resolution had been nearly seven years coming.
On Oct. 23, 2003, Walker entered Caldwell's home on Eskimo Avenue with a gun. Her boyfriend, Raymond Lee, was in the den, trimming her 9-year-old granddaughter's toenails when the gunman approached. He took money out of Lee's pocket, demanded more and took them to Caldwell's room, where she was perming her hair.
She screamed when she saw the gun. Walker told her to stop, and she didn't.
He shot her in the head.
Caldwell died at 45.
The first-degree murder charge didn't come until 2009. Detectives testified they felt they could take their time with the investigation since Walker wasn't free. State records show he was in prison in the years after the homicide for cocaine and marijuana drug sales, battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence.
Walker stood trial this February, but a jury was hung.
The prosecution had no DNA, fiber or fingerprint evidence putting Walker at the crime scene. They downgraded his charge to second-degree murder and offered him five years in prison and five years' probation for a guilty plea.
He turned them down.
This week, jurors heard he had a calm reaction when a detective interviewed him about the death.
He never outright denied he killed Caldwell. He said he had no recollection, that he would never tell on himself.
Walker will be sentenced later this month.
Assistant State Attorney Christopher Moody says that if he is sentenced as a prison release reoffender, the minimum mandatory term Walker faces is life. Walker had been in prison three times before Caldwell's death, on charges involving drugs, grand theft, battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer.
He was out of prison for two months when he killed Caldwell.
"Our mother is gone and we got justice," Tiffaney Boggs said. "This is the best Mother's Day ever."
Walker's own mother sobbed out loud as deputies prepared to take him away.
He looked at her and said, "What you crying for?"
When he was gone, the women in his family joined hands outside the courtroom, bowed their heads and prayed.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.