While the world was engrossed in the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, two other cases showcased the vagaries of Florida law. In Tampa retired Army Colonel Ralph Wald, a 70-year old Vietnam War veteran, was found not guilty of killing 32-year old Walter Conley. Wald invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to justify shooting Conley, whom Wald caught having sex with Wald’s 41-year old wife, Joanna Lynn Flores. (Wald said he thought Conley was raping his wife.)
“This is a military man,” Wald’s attorney Joe Episcopo said. Wald did “what you do with the enemy…you take your gun out and kill the enemy.” For her part, Flores was “elated” that her husband was acquitted: “Because my husband puts me first, he’s taking me to Waffle House.”
Meanwhile, while George Zimmerman and Ralph Wald got away with murder, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband. Alexander argued that the “Stand Your Ground” law should apply to her because she was defending herself. However, a judge denied a motion to grant her immunity and she was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Under Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing requirement, Alexander was given 20 years in prison, a sentence even the judge thought was excessive. The fact that Alexander is Black had nothing to do with it (eyes rolling).
The Alexander, Wald and Zimmerman cases seem to showcase the ways that racism influences Florida’s legal system. They are also indicative of a political system that likes gun owners and military veterans but is tough against convicted criminals, which in Florida, are largely Black or Latino.
The fact that all three cases got so much attention is due to the fact that whatever happens in Florida gets attention, and not just in Florida. Since the year 2000, when Elian Gonzalez split South Florida and faulty voting cards held up a presidential election, Florida has replaced California as the crazy capital of the USA. It is not for nothing that the Sunshine State is known as “FloriDUH.”
The crimes, follies and misfortunes of Florida’s 19 million people are often the stuff that make newspaper stories and online blogs. South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel even has a blog, “FloriDUH” (Sun-Sentinel.com/News/Strange/Floriduh-Blog), that showcases all the “weird, wacky, strange news from the Sunshine State.”
Just a glance at the headlines there give us some indication as to the perversity of some Floridians: “Registered sex predator busted again for allegedly having sex with a dog,” “Man behind bars after allegedly snoozing on car,” “Cops: Couple broke into school to have sex” and so on - stories that feature sex, nudity, drugs, guns and animals are quite common on this blog.