Millionaire developer James Robert "Bob" Ward shot his wife dead in a fit of rage in the bedroom of the Florida couple's mansion, prosecutors told a jury yesterday during opening statements in Ward's murder trial, while his defense characterized the death as a "tragic accident."
"This case is about the fact that it was Bob Ward that shot her almost dead between the eyes," Assistant State Attorney Robin Wilkinson said in an Orange County, Florida, courthouse Thursday.
The prosecution played a recording of the 911 call Ward made to police moments after his wife, Diane, was shot to death in their Isleworth home on Sept. 21, 2009. The 55-year-old woman was killed just days before her scheduled deposition in an investigation into whether her husband took money from his companies to support his lavish lifestyle.
"I just shot my wife … I just shot my wife. I just shot my wife. She's dead. She's done. I'm sorry," he says in the tape.
His daughter, Sarah Ward, cried when she heard the tape. Her father consoled her.
Accident or Murder?
Prosecutors say Ward, 63, admitted to shooting his wife, then changed his story to say she killed herself as he was trying to take the gun away from her.
But defense attorney Kirk Kirkconnell outlined a different scenario for jurors, telling them Diane Ward had a strong mix of alcohol and antidepressants in her system, and that her husband was just trying to save her when she was killed.
"He hears a sound behind him. He turns to the sound and right there is his wife with the gun in her hand. With a loaded gun in her hand. She is right there. She is right on top of him. Not a word is spoken. What do you do in that situation? Instinctively Bob grabs the gun tries to wrestle it away," Kirkconnell said.
Gunshot tests prove the victim was shot from 18 inches away, making it difficult for her to have killed herself, the prosecution said.
Ward is charged with second-degree murder.
His family has been supportive of him all along, but his behavior since his wife's death has invited scrutiny.
While he was being questioned about the shooting, Ward told police, "I'm really concerned about my wife and children. I have two kids in college and it's a nightmare, but we probably need to go ahead and get a lawyer in here."
Detectives noted his oddly composed demeanor.
"James Ward was smiling, and seemed to be in an upbeat mood," one detective wrote in court documents.
Jailhouse video captured Ward dancing and laughing with his daughter and sister-in-law.
His daughter told him, "There's money in the account for you to get stuff, all sorts of goodies. You can buy a bra so I was thinking you'd enjoy that and hemorrhoid cream."
Ward replied, "I'm right here, the Ritz!"
As disconcerting as the videos may appear, ABC News' legal analyst Dan Abrams has said they may not play a big factor in the trial.
"They make him look odd, they make him look bad, but I don't think it's going to be that significant in terms of guilt or innocence," Abrams said Tuesday on "Good Morning America."
Ward's other daughter, Mallory Ward, defended her father in court yesterday by recalling her mother's words.
"She told me a month before she died, she said 'your father is the finest man I've ever known' and I knew that it was a relationship that was just built on respect and two people who loved each other so much."
Ward's trial is taking place in the same court where Casey Anthony was acquitted, marking the second notorious trial in Orlando, Fla., in a matter of months.