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US millionaire convicted of murdering wife

A millionaire developer who lived in the same central Florida neighborhood as Tiger Woods and other celebrities was convicted Saturday of murdering his wife in their mansion.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A millionaire developer who lived in the same central Florida neighborhood as Tiger Woods and other celebrities was convicted Saturday of murdering his wife in their mansion.

The six jurors deliberated more than 12 hours over two days before finding Bob Ward guilty of second-degree murder. The two-week trial took place in the same courthouse where the Casey Anthony case was tried this summer.

Ward was stoic as the verdict was read. Before the verdict, he hugged his two college-aged daughters as the women wept.

He faces up to life in prison when he's sentenced in November.

Ward was accused of shooting of his wife, Diane, in September 2009.The slaying happened 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. Defense attorneys said that Ward's wife was suicidal, and that he was trying to stop her from killing herself. Ward never took the stand in his defense.

Defense attorney Kirk Kirkconnell said he plans to appeal the verdict and request a new trial.

Kirkconnell said jurors may have been more likely to convict Ward as the result of Casey Anthony's trial. The Florida mother was acquitted this summer of killing her 2-year-old daughter in a verdict that surprised followers of the case.

"What happened to Casey Anthony certainly makes it more difficult for any defendant, probably anywhere in the state of Florida, to get a fair trial," Kirkconnell said. "I think there is a widely held belief, or prejudice, based on the Casey Anthony case because people may have felt that that verdict was not the proper verdict."

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Robin Wilkinson used Ward's own words against him by playing a recording of the emergency call to police in which he told a dispatcher five times, "I just shot my wife."

After Saturday's verdict, Wilkinson said she felt sorry for the Wards' two daughters, who had lost a mother and were now losing a father to prison. But she said justice had been served.

"Who wants to believe that their father killed their mother?" Wilkinson said. "I believe Diane Ward got justice today."

The Wards were under tremendous stress from the bankruptcy of his company and a lawsuit over his business practices. A broken wine glass, a wine stain on the patio and a similar stain on Ward's shirt indicated they had been fighting before Diane Ward died, Wilkinson told jurors during closing arguments.

Kirkconnell told jurors it was against Bob Ward's interests to kill his wife because her death exposed his assets to his creditors.

Bob Ward's company, Land Resource, filed for bankruptcy almost a year before the shooting. 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 (818-square-meter) mansion in Isleworth, the same neighborhood where Woods had the notorious SUV crash that revealed his adultery and derailed his golf career.

The lawsuit also says the Wards paid off 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 the Wards' two daughters have supported their father and were in the courtroom during the trial.