While the media publicizes many Stand Your Ground cases when they don’t believe it was justified, we recently successfully asserted the defense with great success. I recently had the opportunity to defend Mr. Ralph Wald using Stand Your Ground in his recent trial on second degree murder with Joe Episcopo. This trial and the stories behind were featured throughout local news for several reasons, including the twisted love story, unforgettable 911 call and other noteworthy reasons. As you will recall, Mr. Wald called 911 and reported shooting a man, later discovered to be Walter Conley, who was “fornicating” with his wife. Later, Mr. Wald reported to members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office that the unknown man was trying to have forceful sex with his wife. During the interrogation of Wald’s wife, Johanna Flores, it was discovered she had an ongoing affair with Conley and she was routinely inviting him over for sex at the residence.
During trial, we asserted a Stand Your Ground defense based on self-defense and defense of others. Ultimately, generally a self-defense case requires two (2) elements to be successful. First, it requires the necessary legal basis, including jury instructions. Secondly, it requires facts to support the jury instruction and to make sense. Given the evidence of the case, we were entitled to the jury instruction based on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. This controversial law has only gained more controversy since the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman saga. The Florida jury instruction approved by the Florida Supreme Court is provided below:
If the defendant [was not engaged in an unlawful activity and] was attacked in any place where [he] [she] had a right to be, [he] [she] had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand [his] [her] ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if [he] [she] reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to [himself] [herself] [another] or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
In Wald’s situation, it explained how he was entitled to use deadly force to prevent either battery on persons 65 years of age or older and/or sexual battery on his wife. While sexual battery is specifically identified as a “forcible felony”, we were able to successfully argue that battery on persons 65 years of age or older should be considered a forcible felony. Again, these are intended to support and strengthen his Stand Your Ground claim/defense.
This above-referenced portion was only one portion of the jury instructions critical for Mr. Wald’s defense. The second portion is identified below:
If the defendant was in a(n)[dwelling] [residence] [occupied vehicle] where [he] [she] had a right to be, [he] [she] is presumed to have had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm to [himself] [herself] [another] if (victim) had [unlawfully and forcibly entered] [removed or attempted to remove another person against that person’s will from] that [dwelling] [residence] [occupied vehicle] and the defendant had reason to believe that had occurred. The defendant had no duty to retreat under such circumstances.
Additionally, the Court provided this third specific instruction:
A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter another’s [dwelling] [residence] [occupied vehicle] is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
These portions of the jury instructions permitted us to argue Mr. Wald had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm both to himself and his wife, Johanna Flores because Conley had entered into the residence without anyone’s approval, which are necessary to successfully claim Stand Your Ground. Flores testified at trial, she recalled texting Conley at 4:30 PM and telling him not to come over. She was unsure as to whether she locked the backdoor, but she was certain she did not recall inviting him over. This was critical because it allowed us to essentially argue he did in fact face a reasonable fear of imminent death because Conley had unlawfully and forcefully entered into the residence. When taken as a whole, these three jury instructions provided Wald the necessary legal basis to use deadly force in his residence within Florida’s Stand Your Ground Statute and class self-defense.
Secondly, it was necessary to provide the factual basis for his support. We knew from day one, Ralph Wald would testify well. He told a very consistent story from his 911 call to his police interrogation to his testimony at trial. Given these consistencies, it was readily apparent Wald would testify very well at trial. His testimony gave the jury the opportunity and tools necessary to find Mr. Wald not guilty.
Ralph Wald came across very truthful, forthcoming and sincere on the witness stand. He testified nearly identically to both his 911 call and police interrogation that night. The State Attorney’s Office attempted to impeach him with transcripts of both, but his testimony was totally in unison giving the prosecution limited opportunities to do so. He also appeared very forthcoming during his testimony while answering very difficult questions with veracity and reasonable explanations. Again, this was absolutely critical for the successful assertion of his Stand Your Ground defense. For example, Wald testified if presented the same situation again, he would have acted in the exact same manner. I believe the jury appreciated and relied on this testimony since Wald has since learned that his wife, Flores, was having an affair with Conley. Wald’s sincerity was overwhelming from the witness stand; he explained his love and commitment to his wife despite the apparent affair. His testimony was critical in supporting his Stand Your Ground claims and defense.
As we always do with our Clients, I assured Ralph Wald I would be at Orient Road Jail when he was released from custody. From day one, I knew we had a significant chance of winning this trial. While he was in custody, I would constantly check in with him to make sure he had eaten. Wald saved his last two meals in the Orient Road Jail to give me. As we had discussed, I shook his hand and welcomed him once he got out of the jail Thursday night after the verdict was announced.
If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges or has questions about self-defense and Stand Your Ground, contact our office for a free case consultation. This case provided just one example where Stand Your Ground can be successfully asserted in a non-traditional setting. We have handled and won cases from murder to armed robbery to driving under the influence. Case consultations are always free. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you.