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Was ‘millionaire murderer’ convicted due to Casey Anthony?

Family members of a Florida millionaire found guilty of killing his wife charged Friday that Bob Ward was found guilty by a “rabid” jury that was swayed by outrage over the Casey Anthony verdict delivered in the same courtroom.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The family of a man convicted of murdering his wife believes the acquittal of Casey Anthony in the same Orlando courtroom just months earlier resulted in an unfair trial.

Bob Ward, 64, was convicted of second-degree murder on Sept. 24, 2011, just over two years after the former millionaire developer called 911 saying he shot his wife. The jury deliberated for 12 hours over two days before rendering a guilty verdict in the same courtroom where Anthony was acquitted in July of murdering her 2-year-old daughter.

Ward’s family believes the shooting was an accident resulting from a mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs. They believe the widespread outrage over the Anthony verdict influenced the jury in his case because it did not want to be seen in a similar light by acquitting Ward.

His sister-in-law, Paula Saare, and daughter, Sarah Ward, appeared alongside his lead appellate lawyer, Jim Felman, on TODAY Friday. “People in Florida were rabid over that (Anthony) case, and I don’t care what happened next, there was not going to be a fair trial,’’ Saare told Carl Quintanilla. “I think (the Anthony verdict) had an impact, definitely.’’

‘I just shot my wife’
The death of Ward’s wife, Diane, 55, in September 2009 occurred days before she was set to give a deposition about his profligate spending on houses and cars in the midst of his business failing. Defense attorneys argued that Ward was trying to stop his wife, who had been on antidepressants and was potentially suicidal, from killing herself.

“I just shot my wife,’’ Ward said on the recorded 911 call following the incident. “She’s dead. She’s done. I’m sorry.’’

However, hours after being arrested, he claimed to have nothing to worry about because he was just trying to get the gun out of her hand. His lawyers also argued that a sloppy night of alcohol and prescription drug use caused an accident.

“I know Bob is innocent,’’ said Saare, Diane’s sister. “They had a marriage that was like fairy tale, and they loved each other deeply. They respected each other and he would do anything for her as she would for him.’’

“I might not know what happened, but I know what didn’t happen,’’ Ward’s other college-aged daughter, Mallory, told NBC News. “And I know that my dad did not pull that trigger.’’

‘Prosecutorial misconduct’
The family gained additional notoriety following Ward’s conviction as the result of video surveillance tapes of their visit to him in the county jail that went viral online. Saare and Sarah Ward can be seen making jokes, and Sarah sticks her tongue out at one point while Bob cracks jokes of his own and even does an impromptu striptease.

The family believes they were unfairly portrayed: that those moments were just five minutes out of a 45-minute visit in which they were instructed by their lawyers to talk about anything except the case.

“The instructions are, ‘Whatever you do, do not talk about what happened,’’’ Saare said. “We have 45 minutes to talk about what? We wanted Bob to know the most important thing was we knew he was innocent, and we knew it was an accident.’’

Felman is leading the appeal to have the conviction overturned due to “rampant prosecutorial misconduct.’’

“This was a case in which I believe they were willing to do anything they could to convict,’’ Felman said. “What was particularly telling and unusual about this case is that the prosecutors have not, will not, because they cannot, articulate any theory of what actually happened that would be consistent with the physical evidence and Mr. Ward’s guilt. I believe the jury was misled by a persistent pattern of prosecutorial misconduct.’’

Considering his age, Ward’s 30-year sentence essentially amounts to a life sentence if the appeal is not successful.

“He’s not well,’’ Sarah Ward said. “He’s 64 years old and he’s sick and he’s in jail when he shouldn’t be. He’s an innocent man, and he’s having a really hard time processing this.’’