As trial approaches for the man who generated national controversy over Stand Your Ground laws when he shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on a Florida street, a jury has acquitted another man under Florida’s controversial law, after he shot dead a man he caught having sex with his wife.
Ralph Wald, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, walked into his home around midnight, and less than ten seconds later, fired three shots at Walter Conley, according to ABC News. He told the jury he thought Conley was raping his wife when he saw them having intercourse in his home. But during a 911 call, when the dispatcher asked Wald if the man was dead, Wald responded, “I hope so!” and refused to help the man. He asked for medical help for his wife, Johnna Flores, since he thought he accidentally shot her also. He said he didn’t recognize Conley even though he had been roommates with his wife prior to her relationship with Wald, lived next door to Wald, had tattoos of Flores on his neck and back, and worked for Flores at her fencing company.
Prosecutors argued that Wald, who suffered from erectile dysfunction, killed Conley in a jealous rage, pointing out that Wald used the word “fornicate” in reports to police, and never the word “rape.”
To acquit Wald under the state’s Stand Your Ground law, Wald had to prove only that he believed his wife was being raped. It doesn’t matter that he shot immediately without taking time to assess the situation, nor that he could have likely taken other measures short of firing three shots into Conley’s head and back. Stand Your Ground laws authorize the unfettered use of deadly force where someone fears assault, without even a duty to first attempt to retreat.
Studies have shown that Stand Your Ground laws are racially discriminatory, associated with higher homicide rates, and don’t deter crime. But even after outrage over Florida’s law in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, attempts to repeal and change these NRA and ALEC-backed statutes have overwhelmingly failed.
Even without a Stand Your Ground law, there are other charges and defenses for heat-of-the-moment crimes like this one with significantly lesser punishment than premeditated murder. Stand Your Ground laws, by contrast, exonerate defendants who kill without hesitation from any criminal liability at all. And it encourages the sort of cowboy justice that might empower one to believe they could take punishment into their own hands — whether it be for adultery or some other wrong — under the guise of self-defense.