Florida Supreme Court reverses murder conviction of former MacDill Airman Ralph Wright

Ralph Wright, Florida Dept. of Corrections photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – A former MacDill Air Force Base airman charged with killing his ex-girlfriend and their baby may soon be a free man.

In August of 2014, Ralph Wright Jr. was convicted on two counts of first degree murder and a jury recommended a death sentence to the judge.

On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion that essentially throws out his convictions and subsequent death sentence.

Paula O’Conner and her son Alijah’s bodies were discovered on July 6, 2007 in her home.  She had been strangled to death, Alijah suffocated.  Investigators interviewed Wright after learning about his relationship with O’Conner.

Wright initially denied being Alijah’s father, but detectives told Wright DNA evidence proved he was. Wright was eventually arrested, charged and convicted of the murders.

In the opinion, the justices wrote, “there is no fingerprint, footprint, blood, fiber pattern impression or other physical evidence tying Wright to the crime scene.  There is no cell tower evidence placing him in the vicinity of the crime scene. There is no murder weapon. The only evidence presented by the state to prove that Wright was the murder is the fact that he had motive and opportunity.”

Attorneys Bjorn Brunvand and Bill Bennett defended Wright at the trial and believe police have always had the wrong man.

“He always wanted to profess his innocence,” said Brunvand. “He always professed his innocence.”

Bennett added that he believes in the death penalty, but not in this case.

“This concerned me, because on the evidence that I saw, if they can get that verdict and get a death penalty and he gets the death penalty…I could not…I don’t think he did it. So… ” said Bennett.

Brunvand believed the evidence presented at the trial proved his client was not guilty.

“The evidence suggested the contrary. The DNA evidence suggested the contrary,” said Brunvand.  “The multiple potential other people who may have committed the murder, who basically weren’t even explored.”

While the Supreme Court has issued its opinion, the State Attorney General’s office can still ask the court to reconsider.  If it doesn’t, Wright could be released from Florida State Prison in a matter of a few weeks.

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