108 - How a Paternity Test, Stray Glove, & Jell-O Shots Became Instruments of A Death Row Conviction
Manage episode 294468472 series 2579375
In 2007, Floridian Air Force Sargent Ron Wright was shocked to learn his friend Paula O’Conner and her infant son Elijah were horrifically strangled and murdered inside her home. Although no forensic evidence, weapon, cell records, or any testimony incriminated Ron, he was accused of the murder, and held in jail for six years until a 2013 trial where he would be determined guilty and sentenced to death. In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all evidence presented was “purely circumstantial” and insufficient to prove Ron was the murderer. He was acquitted of the murder charges and became the 27th person to be exonerated from death row in Florida. Inspired by the injustice he faced, Ron is now a staunch advocate, partnering with Witness to Innocence and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty to abolish the death penalty along with other criminal justice reform initiatives. How has Ron managed to rebuild a life that was stolen from him? Did Paula and Elijah O’Conner ever receive the justice they deserved? Find out the answers to these questions and more on this stirring installment of Open Mike.
[00:05] I’ve been reading all about you… what an ordeal you’ve been through. Before we dive into everything that happened to you… you were in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, you were an active Florida police officer… is that true?
[01:38] What made you want to serve your country and community?
[02:16] Were you born and raised in Florida?
[02:36] Let’s go back to 2007… you were living in Orlando, married and with a son at the time?
[03:08] How did you meet Paula O’Conner… what year was that?
[03:59] Did you eventually date this woman?
[05:11] You’ve maintained you’ve never had a physical, romantic relationship with her?
[06:02] Describe your friendship — would you see her daily, weekly, monthly when you were in town?
[06:54] She was murdered in 2007 with her young son… before she was murdered, she released a blog post on a military-type website accusing you of a series of crimes, correct? She alleged that she was your mistress, you were her father’s child, and she had contacted your wife.
[08:14] Ron and his wife were estranged at this time, but not divorced.
[08:29] How did you find out Paula had been killed?
[10:23] Did your defense attorney ask when the last time you two talked on the phone?
[10:51] Three weeks before the murder, is it true she sued you for medical bills for the child she claimed you fathered?
[12:10] Why would you want to have her on your insurance if you didn’t have sex with her?
[13:53] Are you maintaining that you only had sex with her once? Or are there other times you remember?
[15:08] Ron had a friendly, almost mentor relationship with Paula’s daughter who was in the ROTC program.
[15:26] How old was the baby when he was murdered?
[17:01] You’re maintaining that you didn’t see her at all while she was pregnant?
[17:16] You’re not denying the baby, Elijah, who was sadly murdered in 2007, was your child?
[17:59] You were interviewed by the police shortly after the murders and were all over the news. They didn’t arrest you for approximately six years after the murders… is that true?
[19:01] Ron was in prison from his arrest in 2008 until his trial in 2013, maintaining his innocence the entire time.
[21:30] Did you have court-appointed attorneys, did the military provide you attorneys, did you hire your own?
[21:59] For five years, your two court-appointed attorneys went through the discovery process, researched, and prepared for your 2013 trial where you faced the death penalty?
[24:13] There’s one piece of circumstantial evidence I want to talk about. A type of glove found at the scene of the murders that was accessible at the military base you stayed at… DNA was found on it, but then DNA wasn’t found… tell us about this glove.
[28:28] How long was this trial? Did you present other alibi witnesses?
[30:14] How far was the base from Paula’s home? Her daughter wasn’t home at the time of the murders?
[31:19] The daughter was set to receive over half a million in life insurance proceeds… was she ever looked at as a potential witness?
[32:25] In your opinion, did the murderer wear this glove?
[36:33] Do you have any idea where the glove was found inside the home?
[37:28] I read that the police allege you didn’t cooperate in their investigation. Do you feel you cooperated?
[39:04] Let’s talk about the circumstantial evidence at the scene of the crime… in your case, being sued for medical bills, the alleged infidelity, the glove — these types of things are circumstantial evidence… as you look back on this years later, are you surprised the jury convicted you based on this evidence that doesn’t directly tie you to the crime?
[41:12] As Ron told his attorneys — the case felt more like a paternity case masquerading as a murder case.
[43:55] Your lawyers mentioned the outcome would hinge on the results of the paternity test, which ended up coming back positive. Tell me about the day when you discovered you were the father.
[46:34] You maintain that Paula invited you over, and got you drunk on Jell-O shots to the point where you didn’t remember having sex with her.
[49:01] From what you’re telling us… this woman had to have been mentally ill! The stories she was telling were delusional, which suggests a mental instability.
[51:10] Paula had an incarcerated brother in a work release or similar program who had gone on the run during one of his times away from prison. Her address was one of his last known addresses. When Ron refused to help him, which would have been aiding and abetting, she exploded at him. This was the first behavior Paula demonstrated that may have suggested some latent illness or instability.
[53:09] Did you testify at trial? Was there evidence of her being unstable in any way?
[54:02] Other than the circumstantial evidence of being sued by Paula three weeks earlier, the positive paternity test, and the glove, was there anything else the prosecution used to assassinate your character?
[56:18] How did your lawyers argue that you didn’t remember having sex with Paula that night and that whole series of events without your testimony?
[57:34] Is there anything in hindsight that you think your lawyers could have done differently?
[59:45] No Innocence Projects took on Ron’s case because Florida’s constitution demands that every death penalty case be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court in what is called a direct appeal. During this direct appeal, Ron was acquitted by all seven justices because there was no evidence that tied him to the crime. It didn’t even go to appellate court in between.
[01:04:15] You can watch the oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court here.
[01:05:42] Tell me what you’re up to these days!
[01:06:10] Ron works with both Witness to Innocence and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which has elected him to their executive board as a director, chiefly working to abolish the death penalty amongst other criminal justice reform initiatives.
[01:06:52] You have not been compensated by the state of Florida for the 8.5 years you spent in prison, have you? Are you fighting for it now?
[01:06:41] To this day, no one knows what happened in Paula O’Conner’s house. And to that point, no one wins in this circumstance.
[01:12:31] Ron, thank you for being here with us on Open Mike. I appreciate you for sharing your story with us.
[01:14:04] There you have it. I didn’t know what to expect with Ron Wright’s story, but I love the give-and-take we had. He said he would have convicted himself, I probably would have convicted him on circumstantial evidence, and we would have been way wrong. If you know anybody who would find this episode interesting, forward it to them, tag them, comment, like, subscribe! And thank you for watching. Take care