LGBTQ

Florida man charged with murder after confessing over a month ago to killing gay dog owner

Gerald Declan Radford

Gerald Declan Radford Photo: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

More than a month after he admitted to fatally shooting a gay dog owner in Tampa, Florida, Gerald Declan Radford has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

The 65-year-old claimed that he acted in self-defense on February 2, when he shot John Walter Lay, 52, at a Tampa area dog park. But friends and acquaintances of both men say that Radford had been harassing Lay for months with threats and homophobic slurs and that Lay had actually been trying to avoid him.

On Friday, the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office announced that it had finally filed second-degree murder charges against Radford and that it would seek enhanced sentencing under Florida’s hate crime statute.

Radford was arrested the same day and is being held without bail, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office noted Radford’s claim of self-defense but said that a thorough investigation had shown he was, in fact, the aggressor and that he “was motivated by the fact that the victim was a gay man.”

Friday’s release also addressed concerns within the community about how long it had taken for Radford to be charged. It cited Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which legally permits those “who feel a reasonable threat of death or bodily injury to ‘meet force with force’ rather than retreat.”

“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,” the State Attorney’s office wrote. “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.”

Little is known about what actually took place at the West Dog Park just before 8 a.m. on February 2. The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that a nine-page investigative report it received from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) was almost entirely redacted.

In a text message, Radford told the Times that he was “attacked” and that he “defended” himself.

But those who knew both men said that it was unlikely that Lay would have “attacked” Radford and that Lay had in fact been going out of his way to avoid him. On February 1, the day before he was killed, Lay sent a video to one friend following a run-in with Radford. Lay claimed that Radford had come up to him and screamed “You’re going to die.”

In its Friday press release, the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office said that on February 2, Radford had called 911 and said that he had shot a man. Radford told investigators at the dog park that he had been in a “scuffle” with the victim and that he’d pulled his gun and shot Lay.

In a separate statement, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said that at the time, “deputies did not have enough evidence to indicate that Radford was not acting in self-defense.”

“This case is an example of our detectives’ commitment to seeking justice and uncovering the truth,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “They did not let those initial statements derail them from staying focused on this investigation.”

Both the State Attorney’s and the sheriff’s office said that over the intervening weeks investigators gathered video evidence recorded by Lay and statements from members of the community.

“After analyzing the evidence, it was clear that this man acted from hatred within his heart,” Chronister said. “A hatred that will not be tolerated within our strong and diverse community.”

“We should all be able to enjoy a day at the dog park without the fear of gunfire,” State Attorney Suzy Lopez said in a statement. “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.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Radford could face life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. But even if he’s handed a lesser manslaughter conviction, he could still face life in prison under Florida’s hate crime statute.

On Friday, Equality Florida responded to news of Radford’s arrest, calling it “a critical moment of accountability” and “a sobering reminder of the continued danger of Florida’s controversial 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 LGBTQ+ advocacy organization said. “The absence of a duty to retreat to safety is too often exploited to justify murder without consequence.”

Originally Published Here.

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