Source: Screencap/YouTube/10 Tampa Bay

Watch: Florida Gay Man Gunned Down in Park; Accused Shooter Reportedly Harassed Him for Years, Claims 'Self Defense'

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

A Florida gay man was shot to death in a park reportedly by someone who, he said in a video shortly before his death, had threatened to kill him. His friends say it was an anti-gay hate crime, but the accused shooter is claiming self defense.

"John Walter Lay was shot and killed on Feb. 2" at a dog park in Tampa, local news channel 10 Tampa Bay WTSP reported.

"Those close to Lay, who also went by 'Walt,' said the accused shooter targeted him for being gay," the report went on to add, before noting that, so far, "No criminal charges have been filed."

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law provides immunity from prosecution to individuals who claim that they used deadly force in order to protect themselves and relieves those individuals of the "duty to retreat" from a situation in order to de-escalate it.

Lay's sister, Sabrena Hughes, told the media that Lay would make video messages for her and for their mother each morning. Lay recorded himself in a video message made the day before his death in which he said that the shooter, Gerald Declan Radford, had threatened his life.

"This morning, while I'm walking, we're the only two here, and he comes up to me and screams at me, 'You're going to die! You're going to die!'" Lay said in the Feb. 1 video.

Hughes also told the media that "Radford had been harassing her brother for about two years," the report added. "She said that caused her brother to start going to a different dog park, before his friends convinced him to return."

Radford's claim that Lay attacked him and he was defending himself didn't square with the man Lay's friends and family say they knew. They also expressed the belief that Lay was targeted for being gay.

One friend of Lay's, Paul Gumpert, told WTSP that he was "100%" sure Lay's sexual orientation made him a target, "because he [Radford] didn't do it to anyone else."

Another friend of Lay's, identified only as Kim, told WTSP that Lay "didn't deserve to die because of his sexual orientation and his [differing] opinions."

"Albert Darlington was a good friend of Lay," the news report recounted. "They would go together to the dog park where Darlington said he witnessed the harassment from Radford."

"Lay, according to Darlington, would never engage."

Darlington told the news channel that he doesn't "buy that Walt attacked anybody," with the report adding that Darlington said "he witnessed Lay constantly try to avoid Radford."

"I'm not a lawyer," Darlington told WTSP. "I don't know beans, but to me, this is a hate crime."

Darlington expanded on that thought in other comments made to the media, Huffpost reported.

"For over a year, [Radford] has done nothing but harass Walt," the outlet quoted Darlington saying. "He screams and hollers and calls him a f****t every time he gets to the dog park."

Darlington added that Radford would "sit there and he'll say, 'I'd like to punch him right in the f**king mouth' ... and it has gotten worse and worse and worse."

Darlington, who also knows Radford, received a text message from the alleged shooter that "included a photo with apparent injuries to his face," the news channel detailed.

"I'm so sorry to tell you, Walt attacked me at the park and I had to defend myself," the text said.

But Darlington didn't buy it.

"My first impression was, this looks like you're building an excuse for something that already happened," Huffpost quoted Darlington saying. "Little did I know that Walt was already dead."

Watch the WTSP news report below.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Read These Next