Monday, June 10, 2013

Waffles & Acquittals



It is a thoroughly American love story. On March 10th, a 70-year old retired Army Lt. Col. named Ralph Wald wakes up in the middle of the night and shuffles into the kitchen of his home for a drink of water. On his way to the faucet he notices his 41-year old fifth wife Johnna Lynn fornicating on the living room floor of their home with her 32-year old ex-boyfriend Walter Lee Conley. Wald retrieved a .38 revolver from his bedroom and shot Conley in the head and stomach killing him instantly.

After an investigation, Wald was arrested and charged with second degree murder to which he pleads not guilty. During the ensuing trial, Wald’s attorney (Joe Episcopo) would invoke the murky Florida “stand your ground” statute claiming that Walt “did not recognize” his wife’s ex before he shot him and believed that his wife was being forcibly raped by an intruder. The wife was unable to clarify anything as she was “black-out” drunk the night of the incident having voluntarily consumed large amounts of cognac.

The prosecution argued that Wald’s unfamiliarity with the man he shot seemed unlikely since Conley and Flores had shared a house next door to Wald’s. Flores was even arrested last October for taking a shot at Conley after he walked next door to her then boyfriend Wald’s home and asked to reconcile. She was later bailed out by Wald and the two were married less than a month later. The state presented it as nothing more than a murder perpetrated by a jealous husband.
The happy couple
Mr. Episcopo reminded the court that under the Florida statute his client had no “duty to retreat” once he “perceived” a threat in his home and he was simply defending his wife. Episcopo referred to his client as a “hero” and “the kind of American who made this county great.” Upon taking the stand, Wald testified that he hoped to salvage his marriage saying, “I love my wife.” The jury took less than 2 hours to acquit Wald of all charges. After hearing the verdict, Flores told the Tampa Bay Times that "because my husband puts me first, he's taking me to the Waffle House” and that despite some lingering “trust issues” her husband forgives her “100 percent.”

There is a lot of material to cover but I have to immediately address one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard: "Because my husband puts me first, he's taking me to the Waffle House.” If there is a single statement that can function as a marital barometer it would be this one. Any woman who can make this declaration with a straight face is nothing short of a keeper because her diminished expectation of marriage is only eclipsed by her diminished expectation of fine dining. As for those pesky “trust issues” I am sure they will work themselves out over hash browns and a cup of coffee.

While I applaud Wald’s commitment to his fifth marriage, there are times where it is acceptable to take a matrimonial mulligan. Realizing that you have spent the past 5 months married to a violent, adulterous alcoholic who doesn’t even possess the initiative to walk next door to sleep with your neighbor is one of those times. It is tough to justify facing a murder conviction for a spouse whose idea of a Sunday night is cognac amnesia. If we accept her story at face value, it means that she was too inebriated to remember her first homicide but alert enough to unlock the door on a moment’s notice. I cannot think of any two more attractive qualities in a (mob) wife. I can only imagine how she comforted Wald following the shooting:

“If means anything sweetie I was much too drunk to realize that I was cheating on you with my younger ex-boyfriend. I honestly thought it was just a random drifter.”

Wald’s defense is nothing short of inspired. While most men’s first reaction would be to confront the assailant as soon as they realized their beloved wife was being brutally attacked, Wald felt that the most prudent course of action was to return to his bedroom and retrieve his firearm. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went ahead and swapped out the Brita filter while he was at it. And as far as the “not being sure this was her ex-boyfriend” story I feel safe in declaring that if there is one person whose face a man doesn’t forget it is the guy living next door that his young wife was having sex with as recently as Labor Day.

The real winner in all of this would have to be Joe Episcopo Esq. whose inspired performance (he reportedly even quoted Rudyard Kipling in his closing statement) was nothing short of legendary. To transform a sordid tale of lust, betrayal, and murder into a celebration of national pride is no small task and he rose to the challenge quite admirably. He even reminded jurors of his client’s military service by stating that the “same Constitution” Wald valiantly defended in the Vietnam War “came to his aid when he needed it.” I am sure this type of situation was exactly what our founding fathers had in mind when they penned it.

I understand the victim’s family being frustrated by the outcome. Certainly Conley’s behavior wouldn’t put him on the short list for a church deaconship, but that does not mean his life should be expendable. Perhaps Wald should have faced some repercussions; otherwise we might be sending the message to Floridians that it is less of a legal headache to shoot your wife’s lover than to file for an annulment.

1 comment:

  1. It appears that if you served in the military - you are like James Bond - you have a license to kill on the homefront !!!!!

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