Equality Florida Responds To The Arrest Of Walt Lay's Killer


Equality Florida Responds To The Arrest Of Walt Lay's Killer

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Today, the man who shot and killed John Walter Lay last month in a Hillsborough dog park has been charged with second-degree murder with hate crime enhancement and placed under arrest. This marks a critical moment of accountability. It also serves as a sobering reminder of the continued danger of Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. 

Walt, as he was known, had sent a video to fellow dog park regulars the night before he was killed, documenting that his life had been threatened by the man his friends say constantly harassed him with homophobic slurs and threats of violence. Less than 24 hours later, the same man killed Walt, claiming self-defense.

With the arrest of Gerald Declan Radford, the question of guilt moves to the courts, but the verdict is already in on Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law: This law doesn't just fail to protect; it actively endangers, turning what should be last-resort measures into first instincts, with tragic outcomes. The absence of a duty to retreat to safety is too often exploited to justify murder without consequence.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has been roundly criticized in several other high-profile public killings of unarmed Floridians. Walt’s tragic death invokes the memory of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer who stalked Martin as he returned from the convenience store. It also brings to mind Markeis McGlockton, who was shot to death in front of his family during a dispute over a convenience store parking place. The man who killed McGlockton invoked Stand Your Ground and was not charged with a crime for nearly a month, sparking widespread community protest.

Equality Florida continues to advocate for an end to the state's Stand Your Ground laws. When Florida set the precedent in 2005, warnings were loud and clear: These laws could lead to unjustified killings with little to no accountability.

Now, with more than 20 states following Florida's lead, it's time to fix these laws that allow people to shoot and kill in public, even if they can safely walk away from the situation. Historically self-defense laws allow people to use deadly force in public only in dangerous situations where they can’t easily retreat. But the Shoot First doctrine in Stand Your Ground laws encourages avoidable violence and emboldens vigilantism.

According to research by the Rand Corporation, these laws also dramatically escalate violence, leading to 150 additional gun deaths each month nationwide—with an increase of 32% in Florida’s gun homicide rate alone And they drastically reduce consequences, with homicides in which white shooters kill Black victims deemed justifiable five times more frequently than when the situation is reversed, according to research by the Rand Corporation.

At a time of great polarization, with gun violence proliferating and hate-motivated attacks escalating, we need laws that protect the public and prevent violence, not ones that encourage lethal escalation. In honoring Walt and the vibrant, diverse community he was a part of, we recommit to fighting for a future where no one fears being themselves and where laws promote safety, accountability, and justice for every Floridian.

Today, as we reflect on Walt's life and the tragedy of his untimely death, we are reminded of the urgency of our mission and the importance of unity in our community. We stand together, demanding change and a return to values that protect and preserve life, not endanger it.




CONTACT: Erin Maloney, Communications Director

Office of the State Attorney, 13th Judicial Circuit

(813) 557-3366 | [email protected]


State Attorney’s Office Files Second-Degree Murder Charges in Dog Park Shooting Case

TAMPA, FL (March 8, 2023) — The State Attorney’s Office has filed second-degree murder charges against Gerald Declan Radford in the shooting death of a 52-year-old man at the West Dog Park in Tampa. The defendant alleged self-defense, but following a thorough investigation, the evidence shows Radford was the aggressor and was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man. In addition, the state will be seeking an enhancement as a hate crime under Florida Statute 775.085.

Radford called 9-1-1 on the morning of February 2, 2024, and told dispatchers he shot a man in the dog park. When investigators arrived, Radford told them he and the victim were in a “scuffle” when he pulled his gun and shot the victim. There were no other eyewitnesses to the incident, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office continued its investigation.

Multiple community members came forward in the days and weeks following the shooting to report hearing Radford use bigoted slurs toward the victim, even talking about wanting to harm him while at the dog park. Detectives also learned the victim created a cell phone video 24 hours prior to the shooting warning his friends that Radford told him, “You’re gonna die.”

“We should all be able to enjoy a day at the dog park without the fear of gunfire. This victim also deserved to live free from fear and discrimination based on his sexual orientation. The evidence shows the defendant’s actions were motivated by hate, and he will be held accountable. My heart is with the victim’s family and large group of friends as we fight for justice together,” said State Attorney Suzy Lopez.

Members of the community have actively shared concerns with our office regarding the length of time it has taken to reach a charging decision. It is important to note how difficult it can be to refute a Stand Your Ground claim in some cases because the only other witness to the incident is deceased. Throughout the course of this investigation, community members stepped forward with important information about ongoing tensions that helped add context to the incident. Combined with video recordings created by the victim before he was killed, investigators were able to build a strong case to bring to our office for prosecution.

State Attorney Lopez leads a team of talented prosecutors and professional staff who are responsible for all criminal prosecutions in the 13th Judicial Circuit. The State Attorney’s Office is committed to keeping the public informed about the outcomes of major court cases to ensure transparency and accountability. We believe it is of utmost importance for the public to understand how our justice system operates in order to build trust. To learn more about the outcome of cases prosecuted in our office, you can follow us on social media:

· Twitter: @HillsboroughSAO, @SuzyLopezSA

· Instagram: @HillsboroughStateAttorney

· Facebook: @HillsboroughSAO

About the State Attorney’s Office

The State Attorney’s Office of the 13th Judicial circuit encompasses all of Hillsborough County, including the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Plant City. The office staff consists of approximately 320 dedicated public servants including 130 prosecutors, as well as investigators, victim advocates, and support staff. The office handles approximately 50,000 cases every year. To learn more about the organization or apply to become part of the team, visit www.sao13th.com.




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