Ralph Wright Jr., who was convicted of killing his girlfriend and their 15-month-old son, is fingerprinted after he was sentenced to death in Clearwater, Fla. on Friday. Wright was an Air Force sergeant at MacDill Air Force Base at the time of the killing. (John Pendygraft/The Tampa Bay Times via AP)
LARGO, FLA. — A former Air Force sergeant has been sentenced to death in the killing of his ex-girlfriend and their 15-month old child.
Ralph Wright Jr., 46, was found guilty Friday by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thane Covert of a crime the judge called "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel."
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Wright showed up to Paula O'Conner's St. Petersburg home in the early morning in July 2007 as the woman was getting dressed for work. She had filed a lawsuit against Wright Jr. for failing to support their son, Alijah, who was suffering from health problems. Wright Jr. strangled O'Conner and left her at the foot of the child's crib. He also smothered their son.
Covert said, "The death penalty is the appropriate sentence."
Wright was an Air Force sergeant at the MacDill Air Force Base at the time of the killing. He left O'Conner once she became pregnant and ignored her requests for help supporting the child. O'Conner filed a paternity lawsuit and labeled him a "deadbeat dad" on a website.
Covert called the killings cold and calculated because Wright Jr. showed up when he knew O'Conner would be preparing for work and then moved her car to avoid drawing attention to the scene. The judge also said the murder was for financial gain to get out of paying the child's medical expenses.
The defense argued that Wright Jr. suffered from brain damage, but Covert said evidence did not prove it.
There are 393 others on Florida's death row. The state has executed 88 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1979. Nineteen of those have occurred during Gov. Rick Scott's time in office.