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Both defense, state in Florida millionaire's murder trial appeal to 'common sense'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:45 PM EDT, Thu September 22, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James "Bob" Ward is on trial for second-degree murder in his wife's death
  • Prosecutors say he killed her, then presented several stories of what happened
  • The defense says he loved his wife and wasn't try to cover anything up
  • Orange County, Florida, jury will begin deliberating Ward's fate on Friday morning

(CNN) -- Presenting a case differing sharply from the defense, which claimed James "Bob" Ward deeply loved his family and didn't commit a terrible crime, prosecutors contended Thursday that the Florida millionaire's demeanor --along with the evidence -- proves he murdered his wife.

An Orange County, Florida, jury will begin deliberating Ward's fate on Friday morning, Judge Jenifer Davis announced at the end of closing arguments and a rebuttal early Thursday evening.

They will consider drastically different stories from the sides. Ward, 63, is charged with second-degree murder in the September 21, 2009, death of his wife, Diane Ward, inside their upscale home in suburban Windermere.

According to the arrest affidavit from Orange County Sheriff's Office, the victim was found in the master bedroom -- "a large pool of blood at the top of her head (and) a .357 Magnum hand gun (in) the top drawer of a nightstand next to the bed." She was shot with a bullet nearly square between her eyes. Ward told police that the couple were the only ones in the house at the time, besides their four dogs.

The defense rested its case around midday Thursday, a week after testimony began and two days after the prosecution stopped calling its own witnesses. They have claimed that Diane Ward died after a struggle over a loaded gun, not because of any ill intent of her husband.

Later, prosecutor Robin Wilkinson presented her closing argument, claiming that there was nothing to indicate that the 55-year-old Diane Ward was considering suicide. "This isn't an accident."

Again, the prosecution shined the spotlight on Bob Ward's statements to authorities, friends and colleagues after his wife's death, claiming that his stories were inconsistent.

Later, in the rebuttal phase, fellow prosecutor Ken Lewis said there was no doubt her husband had murdered her. Besides the physical evidence from the scene, he said that Bob Ward's straightforward admission on a 911 call that he'd killed his wife and his demeanor after he was taken into custody pointed to his guilt.

"What I would like to do is appeal to one thing, and one thing only: your common sense," Lewis said.

Defense attorney Kirk Kirkconnell, meanwhile, spent about an hour and a half going through the prosecution's case. In doing so, he tried to show there was no solid evidence implicating his client.

Kirkconnell claimed that "Bob adored Diane and his daughters," and would never hurt them. He added that the 911 call that his client made soon after his wife's death, and which had been central to the prosecution's case, shows that his client is an upfront, honest man -- and not someone trying to hide his role in a murder.

"If he's trying to cover up something, does he call 911 immediately? Does he tell them there's a gun? Does he tell them that his wife has been shot? It doesn't make sense," said Kirkconnell.

One of the couple's daughters, Sarah, testified during the trial that she detected no animosity or difficulty developing between her parents, with whom she said she was "more than best friends."

The trial has drawn widespread national media attention, in part because of the 911 call as well as numerous videos subsequently released by authorities that showed an apparently calm Ward giving seemingly disparate accounts of what happened that night.

The family dynamic has always drawn interest, with Ward's daughters often emotional as they supported their father daily in court and the fact that his company was about to face a bankruptcy hearing shortly before his wife's death. Kirkconnell has denied that his client had anything to gain financially by his wife's death, insisting instead that the entire episode "ruined (him) financially."

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