A decorated Florida veteran who was acquitted of the murder of his wife’s lover seven years ago has now been charged in connection with the September death of a woman inside his home, authorities said Friday.
Ralph Wald, 77, was charged with manslaughter with a firearm Friday after calling 911 on Sept. 16 and stating a woman inside his home was not breathing, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. When deputies arrived at Wald’s home, which is about two hours outside of Tampa, they found a woman fatally shot in the chest on the “couch in the living room,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release.
Authorities have declined to release the name of the woman, but the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed to The Daily Beast that it received the body of Johanna Flores, Wald’s wife, the same day as the incident. An obituary for Flores, 48, also states she died on Sept. 16.
Wald is currently being held at Hillsborough County Jail.
“An interview was attempted with Wald, but he invoked his right to remain silent,” authorities said.
The September slaying comes nearly seven years after Wald, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge in the slaying of Flores’ lover, 32-year-old Walter Conley.
Authorities said Friday that the revolver used in the September slaying was the same firearm used to kill Conley. The gun also “still showed the FDLE markings” made during the last murder investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
On March 10, 2013, Wald walked into his living room to find his wife and Conley having sex. Prosecutors alleged at trial that Wald, in a jealous rage, retrieved a .38-caliber revolver from his bedroom and fatally shot Conley in the head and stomach.
“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 during his May 2013 trial. “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.”
Wald’s defense lawyers, however, invoked the state’s controversial stand-your-ground law and argued the veteran did not recognize Conley and believed an intruder was raping his wife, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time.
“This is a military man,” Joe Episcopo, Wald’s attorney, said during closing arguments, stressing to jurors that Wald had been decorated for valor in combat during the Vietnam War and was “trained what you do with the enemy...you take your gun and kill the enemy.”
Flores testified on behalf of her husband during the trial, saying she was “black-out” drunk after consuming a large quantity of cognac and barely remembered the grisly shooting. Wald also testified about the couple’s sexless marriage, stating that the horrible accident gave him hope their relationship would still be salvaged, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
About two hours of deliberations, Hillsborough Circuit Court jurors acquitted Wald.
“I am elated, absolutely elated,” Flores said outside the Tampa courtroom after the verdict was read on May 31, 2013. “Because my husband puts me first, he’s taking me to the Waffle House.”
Court records, however, show the couple’s domestic strife continued after the murder trial. In October 2014, Wald filed a petition to dissolve the marriage—which he dropped a few months later.
Then, on Jan. 31, 2018, Flores was arrested at their home after Wald told deputies she threw a metal picture frame at him during an argument, cutting his shin. Flores was initially charged with battery with a weapon, but prosecutors dropped the charge the following month.