UPDATE: The jury has recommended the death sentence for Ralph "Ron" Wright, in a 7-to-5 decision. The judge will make the ultimate decision on Wright's fate. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 8.
Pinellas County, Florida - At Pinellas Criminal Court, lawyers spend months, even years preparing their cases, so it's safe to say they do not like surprises. But Friday morning, convicted murderer Ralph "Ron" Wright threw everyone a giant curve ball.
On Thursday, a jury convicted Wright of murdering his former lover Paula O'Conner and their 15-month-old son Alijah. So during Friday's penalty phase, testimony from relatives and friends of Wright about why his life should be spared was expected.
But no one, not even his attorneys, expected Wright to speak. Here's what he told the judge. "The way many of these things were presented, is not the man I am. I'm now fighting for my life. If I don't speak up and let them know this now, when will I ever get to," said Wright, without the jury present.
Judge Thane Covert told Wright he had the right to testify, but he warned of the dangers and even the prosecution joined in. "Mr. Wright needs to understand anything he says on that stand could come back and haunt him in the event this case ever comes back," said Asst. State Attorney Glenn Martin.
After a two hour private meeting with his attorneys, Wright apparently changed his mind and the hearing went on as expected with Wright's lawyer arguing against the death penalty.
"Despite what you've heard for the last month, there's another Ron Wright, a human being whose life is worth saving," Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvald told the jury.
A series of relatives also spoke on Wright's behalf. Their words of love brought tears to the eyes of the typically stoic Wright.
"He's like a father to me as well," Wright's sister Danielle Wright testified. "Any time he came home he always spent time with me and let me know he was there for me."
But prosecutors held up photos in front of the jury members and reminded them that O'Conner was strangled and little Alijah smothered. "Each of the victims were able to think and ponder their demise," said Martin.
Testimony in the penalty phase ended late Friday afternoon and the jury began making their life or death decision at about 4:45 p.m. Their recommendation to the judge does not have to be unanimous.