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77-year-old war vet once acquitted of murder now charged after another shooting death

Police handcuff suspect. (MaxPixel/Released)
January 22, 2020

Nearly seven years after Ralph Wald, then newly acquitted in the death of his wife’s lover, walked out of the Hillsborough County jail, the decorated war veteran is again under arrest and facing a felony charge for a shooting death in his home.

Wald, 77, is charged with manslaughter with a firearm. He called 911 on Sept. 16 and told an operator that a woman in his house was not breathing, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. When deputies arrived at his Clara Drive home, they found a woman shot dead on the living room couch.

Deputies declined to release the woman’s name, citing the agency’s broad interpretation of a constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, meant to protect the rights of crime victims. But the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office said that on the same day, it received the body of a woman with the same name and birthdate as Wald’s wife, 48-year-old Johnna Flores. An obituary on the website of Boza & Roel Funeral Home in Tampa also showed Flores died on Sept. 16.

Public attention on the couple dates to 2013, a year after the former next-door neighbors married. In March of that year, Wald awoke in the middle of the night and found Flores having sex with a former roommate and ex-lover, Walter Conley. Wald, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, got a .38-caliber revolver from his bedroom and shot Conley in the stomach and head.

In the second-degree murder trial that followed, prosecutors said Wald killed Conley in a jealous rage, while defense attorneys successfully argued that Wald didn’t recognize Conley and thought he was an intruder raping his wife. After his release from jail, Wald told reporters he wanted to mend his marriage with Flores.

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Court records showed domestic strife, though. In 2014, Wald filed a petition to dissolve the marriage, which he dropped a few months later. Then, last January, Flores was arrested after Wald said she threw a metal picture frame at him. Prosecutors dropped the charge the following month.

Then, in September, deputies were called to the shooting death. They said they tried to interview Wald, but he invoked his right to remain silent. In a box in Wald’s nightstand, they found a .38-caliber revolver — the same gun he’d shot Conley with. It had been used in this shooting, too, deputies said.

The Sheriff’s Office presented the case to the State Attorney’s Office in December, deputies said. Wald was arrested and charged on Friday, after consultation between the agencies.

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© 2020 the Tampa Bay Times