Five and a half years after the murders of a St. Petersburg mother and her 15-month old son, former Air Force Sgt. Ralph Wright faced a Pinellas County jury Wednesday. Wright became a suspect the day the murders were discovered, in large part because the boy's mother had a Web site: Militarydeadbeatdads.com.
On that site, Paula O'Conner accused Wright of fathering Alijah and then abandoning her when serious medical problems surfaced. She had retained an attorney to pursue child support and Wright was served legal notice a couple of weeks before the murders.
"He didn't want to have to assume the financial responsibility of...paying for that medical support, he didn't want the financial responsibility of past child support, he didn't want the financial responsibility of future child support," assistant state attorney James Hellickson told jurors during opening statements Wednesday.
Hellickson said during the attack, O'Conner fled to her baby's room and was strangled at the foot of his crib. Alijah was too young even to walk on his own.
"All he could do was stand there while the defendant grabbed him by the throat, forced him into the mattress face down," Hellickson said.
Despite the circumstantial evidence, prosecutors have no eyewitnesses and scant physical evidence. The critical proof is a single military flight glove found on the arm of a sofa by the home's front door.
Hellickson said Wright had access to identical gloves while stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. The prosecutor told jurors, "That glove turned out to have the DNA profile of Paul, the DNA profile of Alijah and the defendant's DNA..."
However, defense attorney Bill Bennett told jurors the glove had to be tested several times, and said his expert witness will testify Wright's DNA may not be present.
Bennett also suggested other possible suspects, including O'Conner's daughter and other men she was dating.
"The state attorney investigators, and the St. Petersburg Police Department, completely disregarded any other tips or any other leads in this particular case -- simple as that," Bennett said.
The trial is expected to continue at least two weeks. Wright has been awaiting trial since his arrest in January 2009.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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