It took a Florida jury just two hours to acquit a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who invoked a controversial self-defense law to explain his decision to kill his wife’s lover.
Jurors decided, after two days of testimony, that Ralph Wald, 70, was justified in killing Walter Conley when Wald arrived home one night to find Conley, 32, having sex with Wald’s wife, Johnna Lynn Flores. Wald testified he shot Conley in the head and chest because he thought the younger man was an intruder who was raping the 41-year-old Flores.
Wald’s attorneys successfully argued that their client’s case fell under the jurisdiction of the Stand-Your-Ground law, a self-defense plea used by defendants who witness a situation where someone appears to be in harm’s way and the only option is to intervene with deadly force. Nearly half of the fifty United States have some form of the law.
Wald claimed he did not recognize Conley, one of Flores’ former boyfriends, when he found the two having sex on the living room floor at roughly 3:00 am on March 10, 2013. The couple had been married for under five months at the time.
Prosecutors argued that Wald, who suffers from erectile dysfunction, murdered Conley in the midst of a jealous rage.
“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 his closing argument. “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.”
On the witness stand, Flores claimed she was “black-out” drunk and unable to remember much about the night in question. Flores and Wald were married only weeks after Conley was arrested for shooting at Flores, whose home he had been staying at for several weeks in October of 2012.
“I am absolutely elated,” Wald told the Tampa Bay Times on the way out of the courtroom. Flores was also ready to celebrate, telling reporters “Because my husband puts me first, he’s taking me to Waffle House.”
In the courtroom Wald’s attorney, Joe Episcopo, said Wald is “the kind of American who has made this country great.”
Detectives said that when Wald phoned 911 he said he shot a man who had been “fornicating” with his wife, failing to ever mention the word “rape.”
“If the same thing happened again, I would do the same thing,” Wald said on the stand. “I didn’t think I did anything wrong. I had a problem, I found someone raping my wife. I took care of it. I got a gun and I shot him.”
The case has, perhaps inevitably, been sensationalized in the Florida tabloids. The trial has also been called a warm-up for the media firestorm that will descend on Orlando, Florida when the George Zimmerman trial begins later this year.
Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighborhood watch coordinator, is charged with second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen. Zimmerman is expected to plead not guilty by way of Stand-Your-Ground, maintaining the disputed defense that the 17-year-old attacked him and the only way to save his own life was to use deadly force.