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Self-Defense Claimed in Brandon Murder Trial

Seventy-one year old Ralph Wald, a retired Army colonel, retired lawyer and Vietnam veteran, is on trial this week in Tampa for the March 10 killing of Walter Lee Conley, 32. Wald is charged with second-degree murder for shooting Conley three times in the living room of Wald's Brandon home.

Wald argues he was acting in defense of his wife and himself because he thought Conley was raping his wife. In Florida, the use of deadly force is justified if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony or to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.

Wald's wife, Johnna Flores, 41, was not injured and does not remember what happened that night because she was intoxicated. Flores admits that she had a sexual relationship before and after her marriage to Wald last fall.

Flores testified that Wald had erectile dysfunction and could not have sex. She confided in him that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather as a child and had trouble being intimate because of the experience. Flores and Wald have never consummated their marriage. They maintained separate bedrooms. Until the night of March 10, according to Flores, she and Conley had sex in her bedroom after Wald was asleep.

According to Flores's trial testimony, she had couldn't have relations with her husband because he was older and reminded her of her stepfather, but didn't have the same problem with Conley.

On the night of March 10, Wald got up around midnight because he thought he heard something. He realized there was a man in the living room and it appeared he was raping Flores. Because of their non-existent sex life, Wald's defense attorney asserts that Wald believed Flores was incapable of having sex, much less an affair. So, he presumed she was being raped.

Wald got his gun and yelled at Conley to get out. Conley got up and used Flores as a "human shield" to try to get away from the gun. Wald shot at Conley trying to break him away from Flores. At one point, Flores' nightgown got in the way, and Wald thought he shot her.

Before calling 911, Wald checked his passed-out wife for a pulse.

The defense asserts that Wald did not know that the man in his home was Conley because of his shielded position behind Flores. Prosecutors argue that Wald knew and recognized Conley on March 10. Conley reportedly had a tattoo of a rose with Flores's name on his neck and her face on his arm.

Wald, a recipient of the Silver Star for heroism, has no previous criminal record.

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  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

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