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Crime & Courts

Wald acquitted in fatal shooting of wife's lover

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Published:   |   Updated: May 31, 2013 at 09:52 AM

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TAMPA -

A 70-year-old man on trial for killing his wife's lover told jurors Thursday he was focused and deliberate in shooting to death the man he assumed was raping his wife.
 
“Every shot I took was very, very controlled,” said Ralph Wald, a Vietnam veteran and retired attorney from Brandon. “Every shot I took did exactly what I wanted it to do.”
 
Jurors took him at his word. The jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding Wald not guilty of second-degree murder in the March 10 killing of Walter Lee Conley, 32, who slain in the living room of Wald's home.
 
Wald's attorney, Joe Episcopo, called his client a “hero.''
 
“That same constitution that he defended came to his aid when he needed it,” Episcopo said.
 
“He stood his ground in this particular case,” Episcopo said. “He's built a character that all of us should be envious of and proud of. And he is the kind of American that makes this country great and has built this country and made this country the country it is.”
 
Wald told jurors he killed Conley because he thought Conley was raping his wife, 41-year-old Johnna Flores, who says she was having an affair with Conley.
 
After the shooting, Wald called 911 and said he had just shot his wife and a man who was “fornicating” with her.
 
Wald said he had no idea about the affair until after the killing. When he heard a recorded interview his wife gave with investigators about the affair, “It was rather devastating to me.”
 
Wald said Flores had told him she couldn't be intimate because she was traumatized from being sexually abused as a child.
 
Assistant State Attorney Christopher Moody told jurors Conley was wrong, “brazen” and “beyond disrespectful” to have sex with a married woman in her husband's living room.
 
But, Moody added, “Under the law, he should not have died because he was wrong.”
 
Moody noted that the law recognizes self-defense only if a “reasonably prudent person” in the same circumstances could believe deadly force was necessary to “prevent a forcible felony, great bodily harm or death.”
 
“We've proven this case,” the prosecutor said. “He had a problem, and that problem was Walter Conley.”
 
In his testimony Thursday, Wald said that on the night of the shooting, he went to bed, leaving his wife watching television. Around midnight, he got up to get a drink of water or iced tea and said he heard a sound from the living room.
 
He said he saw someone with his wife and headed back to his bedroom to get his gun.
 
On his way there, he said, “I remember thinking a headline or a news flash - elderly man and spouse killed in home invasion. … I knew I was going back to get my gun. I'm 70 years old. I can't go toe to toe with someone in their 20s … someone I thought was raping my wife.”
 
Wald said he went to the living room and turned on the lights and saw his wife with “somebody over her.”
 
He said he thought his wife was being raped, partly because, “Going on midnight, I knew she was always drunk at that point.”
 
Conley “was grabbing my wife by the shoulders, using her as a shield,” Wald said. “He was cringing down behind her.”
 
Wald, a Vietnam veteran, said he wanted to put distance between his wife and the intruder.
 
“I came around her body with my pistol, and my intent was to shoot him in the lower intestines, the lower stomach area, the lower part of his torso. … I know a hole in the intestines can be very painful. … I was looking to inflict as much pain as I could.”
 
Wald said he intended for the second shot to hit Conley in the lungs and heart. He fired, but Flores' pink nightie got tangled up in the muzzle, and Wald said he thought he missed Conley and possibly hit Flores. He later learned he had hit Wald in the chest just as he intended.
 
He fired a third time.
 
“When Conley went down, my wife went down with him and I thought my second shot must have hit my wife,” Wald said. “The whole thing, from the time I shouted until the man was dead on the floor. … The whole thing was like seven or eight seconds.”
 
Wald said he didn't use the word “rape” when he called 911 or talked to detectives after the shooting because he considers the word “a conclusion” and not an observation.
 
Wald was released from jail several hours after the verdict. His wife picked him up and the couple embraced, hugged and kissed several times in front of a throng of reporters before driving off at about 10:15 p.m.
 
He declined comment but Flores said, “My man was willing to give his life for me. That's an honorable man.”
 
Flores said after the verdict that she was looking forward to her husband's release later that night. She said they planned to celebrate by going to the Waffle House.
 
She added that she wasn't nervous living with a man who had fatally shot another man in front of her. He was protecting her, she said.
 
“We'll get all our business in order over the next few days,” Flores said. “I'm glad he's coming home. It's been very lonely.”
 
 

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