Emotions continue to run high in the Central Florida courtroom where Florida land developer Bob Ward is on trial for the murder of his wife two years ago.
The opening day of Ward’s defense began Wednesday with Judge Jennifer Davis denying his lawyers’ request for an acquittal, ruling instead that prosecutors have presented sufficient evidence to send the case to the jury for a final decision.
Later in the afternoon, Ward, 63, had an outburst in the courtroom, shouting something unintelligible during a legal argument about a life insurance policy.
Ward’s shouting took place outside of the presence of the jury but was enough to bring a rebuke from Judge Davis, who reminded the defendant he will have the chance to testify if he wants, but that he cannot shout in the courtroom.
Ward is accused of fatally shooting his wife, Diane Ward, 55, Sept. 21, 2009, just days before she was scheduled give a deposition in a lawsuit alleging that Ward took money from the family’s failing company, Land Resources, to support a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, houses, trips and a life insurance policy.
Two years later, on Wednesday, Ward’s defense used their first chance in the nearly week-long trial to present their case by calling expert witnesses to back their claim that Diane Ward was suicidal, and their client was trying to stop her from killing herself when the gun went off, firing a single bullet into her face.
The defense’s toxicology and pharmacology expert, Dr. Jimmie Valentine, testified that the dangerous combination of the anti-depressant citalopram and alcohol in Diane Ward’s system could have depressed her central nervous system, causing her to become aggressive and suicidal.
Under questioning by the prosecution, however, Valentine acknowledged the drug can also have the opposite effect on people, and that nothing in Diane Ward’s medical records indicated the drug would have aggressive, suicidal side effects on her.
On the day of his wife’s death, Ward called 911 from the couple’s exclusive Isleworth, Fla., home, telling a dispatcher five times that he had shot his wife in her face. He later changed his story, telling investigators that his wife actually pulled the trigger and committed suicide as he tried to take the gun away.
Prosecutors, in their case, argued that Ward, in a fit of rage, intentionally shot his wife in the face, and that his questionable business dealings were the motive in her death.
The defense brought in University of Florida law professor Jeffrey Davis to refute the prosecution’s claim that Ward would have been motivated by money.
The Wards had nearly $10 million in joint assets that, Davis testified, business creditors could not go after while Diane Ward was alive, based on a marital protection concept called “tendency of the entireties.” If Ward’s wife died, he said, creditors would be able to go after those assets.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Kirk Kirkconnell told that prosecutors’ case was circumstantial, the Associated Press reported.
“She could have been trying to commit suicide. She could be trying to shoot him. Maybe she was trying to throw the gun away,” Kirkconnell said, according to the Associated Press. “Anyone of these are possible. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what reasonable doubt is all about.”
It remains to be seen whether Ward will testify in the trial, where he faces second-degree murder charges.