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Man Charged with Murder 2 Months After Shooting Gay Man at Florida Dog Park: 'Hatred in His Heart'

John Walter Lay was fatally shot at a Tampa, Fla., dog park, and his friends believe he was targeted because of his sexuality

<p>Justice4Walt/ Facebook</p> John Walter Lay

Justice4Walt/ Facebook

John Walter Lay

The man who fatally shot a gay man at a Florida dog park in early February and claimed he did so in self-defense has been arrested and charged with murder, PEOPLE confirms.

Gerald Declan Radford, 65, shot and killed John Walter Lay, 52, on Feb. 2 at the West Dog Park in Tampa, Fla., the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office confirmed. More than two months after the shooting, he has now been charged with second-degree murder with a hate crime enhancement.

Although Radford initially claimed self-defense in the shooting and was not arrested or immediately charged, friends of Lay previously told PEOPLE they believed Radford — who they allege harassed Lay for more than two years — targeted him, in part because of his sexuality.

<p>Courtesy Photo</p> John Walter Lay with his dog Fala

Courtesy Photo

John Walter Lay with his dog Fala

Samantha Hitchcock claimed she heard Radford hurl homophobic slurs at both her and Lay on numerous occasions, but said that Lay never initiated fights with Radford, who was also a frequent park goer.

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“Walt never instigated anything at all,” Hitchcock told PEOPLE. “He always walked away. He would say, 'Leave me alone.' He was just that type of person.” 

Related: A Gay Man Was Fatally Shot at a Florida Dog Park — The Gunman Was Quickly ID'd But Hasn't Been Charged

Another friend, Kim Wolfley, said she received a video from Lay — who friends called Walt — one day before he was killed, where he relays an alleged disturbing encounter he had with Radford that morning.

“So 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,’ and I asked him to just leave me alone, and so far he has,” Lay says in the video, which Wolfley didn't see until after Lay was killed the following day.

"This to me sounds like it was premeditated," Wolfley told PEOPLE. "It just floored me when I saw the video."

<p>Courtesy Photo</p> John Walter Lay and Luna, one of Kim Wolfley's dogs

Courtesy Photo

John Walter Lay and Luna, one of Kim Wolfley's dogs

"After analyzing the evidence, it was clear that this man acted from hatred within his heart," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement on Friday that announced Radford's arrest. "A hatred that will not be tolerated within our strong and diverse community."

Radford will be booked at the Orient Road Jail. When previously reached by PEOPLE, Radford declined to comment and stated that he did not have an attorney to speak on his behalf.

“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.”

More than two months after his death, friends of Lay's are happy to see that an arrest was made.

"We're thankful for the thorough investigation and are excited we will hopefully see justice for Walt," friends and family of Lay told PEOPLE in a statement on Friday.

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Read the original article on People.