Advertisement
  1. News

Jury acquits Brandon man in killing of wife's lover

Ralph Wald and Johnna Lynn Flores leave the Orient Road Jail on Thursday. Earlier, Flores told of plans after his release: “Because my husband puts me first, he’s taking me to the Waffle House.”
Published May 31, 2013

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 pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  3. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  4. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  5. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  6. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  7. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
  8. Reclaimed water rates are increasing 6 percent in St. Petersburg.
    Potable, waste and reclaimed water fees will all increase. So will garbage fees, though the stormwater fee will drop for some.
  9. Joshua Russell, 26, faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter, according to deputies. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A dose of kratom caused the caretaker to fall asleep for hours inside a hot minivan with the disabled man in the back seat, investigators said.
  10. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announces federal grants Friday that will equip at least 600 officers with body cameras. CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Charlie Frago
    Mayor Jane Castor announces a nearly $600,000 Department of Justice grant Friday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement