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Tampa man recalls girlfriend being shot in front of granddaughter

TAMPA — The trial resumed Tuesday against Ronny Walker, a felon accused of shooting Elaine Caldwell in the head in front of her granddaughter and boyfriend during a 2003 home invasion robbery.

On the witness stand, boyfriend Raymond Lee recounted the incident: He was clipping the 9-year-old granddaughter's toenails in the den of the home on E Eskimo Avenue when he saw the girl's face change. He looked behind him and saw what she had seen — a stranger in the house, holding a gun and putting his finger to his lips as if to hush her.

The man walked up to Lee, told him to turn around, patted him down and took money out of his pocket.

"Where's the rest?" the man asked.

"What are you talking about?" Lee asked.

"Where's the big money?"

The man asked who else was in the house. Lee said his girlfriend was there. With his pistol pointed at Lee's head, the gunman walked with Lee and the girl toward the bedroom. Lee said he got a good look at the scar on the left side of the man's face.

Caldwell, 46, was looking in the mirror, perming her hair, when Lee called her name.

She turned around and screamed. The gunman told her to be quiet.

"She had such a high pitch," Lee said. "I could see that he was panicking."

"Shut up!" the man kept yelling. "Shut up!"

"Be quiet, please!" the boyfriend pleaded.

The screaming continued.

"I'm not going to tell you to shut up no more," the gunman said.

Lee tried to reach for the gun. Caldwell kept screaming.

"All right now," the gunman said. "All right now. …"

The gun fired.

Caldwell fell.

The girl started to scream. The gunman threatened to kill her next if Lee didn't lead him to more money, but he saw her panic and told her to calm down.

"I'm not going to shoot you," the gunman said to the girl, "because I have a daughter myself."

Lee said he saw the man kneel down and kiss the girl on the forehead.

She told him, "It's in the trunk."

Lee was a drug dealer who kept his merchandise in two cars on his neighbor's property. But once they got out to the car, the man found no money to take.

Lee saw an opportunity to grab the gun. It fell to the ground. The two men began to tussle.

"Run!" Lee yelled to the girl. "Run!"

She took off. The man took his gun back and ran away. Lee searched for help.

Police offered him a photo pack, but he didn't recognize anyone right away. Later, he evaluated an online mug shot database.

"Bam, that picture came up," he said. "I almost lost my legs. I almost fell."

It was the defendant in the courtroom, he said, pointing at Ronny Walker.

Yet there is no DNA, fingerprint or fiber evidence that puts Walker in the house. The murder weapon has never been recovered.

Lee had already told his story on the stand. In February, it wasn't enough to convince a jury of Walker's guilt. The trial ended in a hung jury.

The prosecution downgraded the charge from first- to second-degree murder and offered Walker, 32, a deal his own attorney considered unusually attractive for a killing — five years in prison and five years' probation in exchange for a guilty plea.

Walker turned it down.

He can get life in prison if found guilty.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Tampa man recalls girlfriend being shot in front of granddaughter 05/04/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 12:18am]
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