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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sergeant’s Murder Trial May Leave Feds Liable

(CN) - The United States cannot dismiss claims stemming from the murder of a woman and her baby at the hands of an Air Force sergeant, a federal judge ruled.

In July 2007, Ralph Daniel Wright Jr., a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., murdered a woman and her 14-month-old son. The woman's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the United States in September 2012, less than six months after the government denied their notice of claim.

Wright is awaiting trial for the two murders in prison, according to the family's complaint.

The government sought to dismiss the claims, arguing they were barred by the two-year limitations period that applies to claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The victims' family had waited four years after the murders, in August 2011, to file a notice of claim with the United States, although the United States argued that their claims accrued when Wright was indicted for the murders in December 2008.

But the plaintiffs countered that the two-year statute of limitation had yet to accrue, or was tolled until Wright has been convicted of the murders.

They also claimed that the United States and the State Attorney's office had hindered their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murders, which delayed their notice of claim.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa refused to dismiss last week, noting that the complaint does not reveal when the plaintiffs' claims accrued.

While Whittemore found it unlikely that the government had hindered the survivors' investigation, he conceded that the claims did not appear time-barred.

The victims' family must amend their complaint by the end of the month, according to the ruling.

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