For developer Bob Ward to convince jurors that his wife killed herself in the wealthy neighborhood they shared with Tiger Woods and other celebrities, he will have to overcome a tough witness: himself.
"I just shot my wife," Ward calmly told a 911 dispatcher minutes after a bullet to the head killed Diane Ward in the master bedroom of their $4.3 million mansion in the Orlando suburb of Isleworth.
"You just what?" the dispatcher asked.
"I just shot my wife," Ward repeated. He uttered those words a total of five times in the recording jurors heard at the start of his trial this week.
Ward is accused of fatally shooting his 55-year-old wife in September 2009, days before she was to give a deposition in a lawsuit alleging that he blew millions of dollars on big houses and expensive cars while his business failed. His trial on second-degree murder charges is being held in the same courthouse where Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder this summer in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Ward contends that his wife was suicidal. At the start of the trial Thursday, his lawyer said Ward was trying to take the gun away from his wife when it went off. Toxicology reports showed that Diane Ward had antidepressants and alcohol in her body before she was killed.
During the 911 call, a dispatcher asked, "Sir, did you purposely do this or was it an accident?" Ward answered, "It was an accident."
Prosecutors said it would have been difficult for Diane Ward to have shot herself, citing gunshot testing that shows the bullet was fired from 18 inches away.
During testimony Friday, Ward averted his eyes when prosecutors showed images of a lifeless Diane Ward lying on the floor. Jurors also were shown the gun, but were told that crime-scene investigators had been unable to pull fingerprints from it.
Bob Ward's company, Land Resource, filed for bankruptcy almost a year before his wife died. He was being sued by an insurance company that accused him of taking more than $20 million from the sale of lots in subdivisions he was building in Tennessee in 2007. The insurance company, which had issued bonds for the subdivisions, said Ward should have used the money to improve the subdivisions, but instead paid off debts and went on a spending spree.
The lawsuit says the Wards used the money to buy their 8,800-square-foot mansion in Isleworth, the same neighborhood where Tiger Woods had his notorious SUV crash. The suit says the couple also paid off two loans totaling nearly $2.5 million for two houses in Georgia, bought a house on the Georgia coast for $750,000 and purchased several vehicles, including a $140,000 Mercedes-Benz sedan. The lawsuit was dismissed last month because of a lack of action by either side.
Ward's behavior after his arrest also raised eyebrows. A jailhouse video of a visit from his daughter and sister-in-law just days after the shooting showed him cracking jokes and laughing. But Ward's two daughters are supporting their father and were in the courtroom at the start of the trial.
One of his daughters, Mallory Ward, testified that her parents loved each other. She recalled her mother telling her about a month before her death, "Your father is the best man I've ever known."
The trial was expected to last two weeks.