Gay man fatally shot in Tampa, no arrest made

John Walter Lay. (Photo via Lay’s Facebook)

TAMPA | The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Feb. 6 that a death investigation was conducted Feb. 2 after the fatal shooting of John Walter Lay, a 52-year-old gay man murdered in the Egypt Lake-Leto area’s West Dog Park.

Deputies investigated the matter just before 8 a.m., identifying both Lay and his shooter, 65-year-old Gerald Declan Radford. No arrest was made and there were no impending charges filed, HCSO’s press release noted, adding that “there is no danger to the public.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, which spoke with some of Lay’s friends and family, Radford “had been harassing him at the park for months, hurling homophobic slurs and threatening him.” The outlet obtained a video in which he chronicled one such incident on Feb. 1.

“So this morning while I’m walking — and we’re the only two here — he comes up to me and screams at me, ‘You’re going to die, you’re going to die,’ and I asked him to just leave me alone, and so far he has,” Lay says in the recording.

The Times reached out to Radford who advised via text message that the shooting was self-defense. “I was attacked. I defended myself. End of story,” he told them. The outlet obtained Lay’s death certificate and reported he was shot with a semi-automatic handgun.

Following his death, Lay’s sister Sabrena Lay Hughes publicly shared that her brother had been murdered via social media.

“My brother John Walter Lay was murdered yesterday,” she wrote Feb. 3. “He was shot and killed by someone … that had been harassing him for months and found Johnny alone at the West Dog Park and killed him, claiming self defense with no witnesses (convenient for the liar).”

Hughes was among those interviewed by the Times. She said she wasn’t sure if Lay was targeted because of his sexuality, but Will Meyer — described as his best friend — told reporters he was verbally harassed for it.

Meyer said that Lay and Radford were initially friendly toward one another during dog park visits but that changed during COVID-19. That’s when “Radford found out about Lay’s politics and that he was openly gay,” the Times reported, and “Radford began to target Lay, calling him slurs when he was walking in the park.”

Watermark reached out to HCSO’s Public Information Office Feb. 9, which noted “at this time no arrests have been made and there are not any criminal charges.” Media Relations Manager Jessica Lang added that the “investigation will be handed over to the State Attorney’s Office” at its conclusion, which will decide if criminal charges should be filed.

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