Bob Ward's daughter in court: Diane drank 'bottle of wine or 2' a day

By Greg Angel, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 6:05 PM EST

Attorneys are expected to make their final pitch to jurors Wednesday in the murder retrial of former Isleworth millionaire Bob Ward.

Ward is charged with shooting and killing his wife, Diane Ward, in the couple's Isleworth mansion in September 2009. A judge tossed out Ward’s first conviction from 2011, saying past defense attorneys did not properly object to evidence in the case.

Prosecutors told jurors that Ward intentionally shot and killed his wife as pressure mounted from a looming business bankruptcy.

Jurors in the case watched Ward say in an exclusive 2011 jailhouse interview with Spectrum News 13 that he accidentally shot his wife during a struggle to stop her from taking her own life.

“I don’t know what she was thinking. All I know is she had a gun, and I had to get it out of her hand,” Bob Ward said in the 2011 interview, which was played in the Orange County courtroom before Judge Leticia J. Marques on Monday.

On Tuesday, Sarah Rupp, Bob and Diane Ward’s daughter, testified in support of her father.

Rupp told jurors that her parents had a loving relationship but said her mother had tendencies to become confrontational at times.

“A lot of times, if my Mom had been drinking, she would pick fights with my Dad,” Rupp said.

Diane's alcohol, prescription pill use

Rupp testified she had such a close relationship with her mom, Diane, that friends considered the pair "sisters."

She said her mom heavily used prescription drugs and alcohol.

“She’d say, ‘I need my happy pills,’ and that was not unusual for her," Rupp said, adding later that it was “not unusual” for her mom to have “a bottle of wine or two” per day.

Rupp also testified that her mother had stopped drinking alcohol around late spring 2009 but started again a week before her death.

Defense attorneys argued Diane Ward’s erratic behavior was spawned by her “elevated” drinking and prescription pill use.

Jurors were told that Diane was first prescribed Celexa in 2005, a drug used to treat depression. Dr. Jimmie Valentine, a retired professor at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, was hired by the defense. He testified Tuesday that hostility, aggressiveness and anxiety are all possible side effects of Celexa.

Assistant State Attorney Will Jay said Diane was not prescribed a high enough dosage of Celexa to cause such side effects.

The gun and DNA

Rupp told the jury it was no secret that her father kept a handgun in his nightstand at the family’s homes in Florida and Georgia. Rupp also said her mother had no experience handling firearms.

It was that very .357 Magnum that has become a focal point in this trial.

DNA from both Bob and Diane Ward were found on the gun, but both sides are telling jurors different stories of what that means.

Nancy Peterson, a forensic biology consultant, testified on behalf of the defense. She told jurors that the lab charged with testing the gun for DNA mixed up samples.

“She (the original lab technician) combined swabs from the trigger and swabs from the handle, and combined them into one tube,” Peterson said. “She made notes that there would be insufficient DNA, possibly on the trigger or gun grip, so she combined samples to maximize the possibility of picking up DNA on the samples.”

“Was Mr. Ward’s DNA on the gun?” defense attorneys asked Peterson.

“Yes,” she replied.

“But, we don’t know whether or not it was on the grip or the trigger, because the samples were combined,” defense attorneys rebutted.

Jay followed up by saying Diane’s DNA on the gun is not proof that she was handling the gun at the time it was fired.

Test of motive

Prosecutors contend Bob Ward intentionally shot and killed his wife as pressure mounted from a looming business bankruptcy. Diane Ward was scheduled to give a sworn deposition just days after her death.

State witnesses told jurors last week that Bob Ward wrote in emails that he was adamant that he did not want Diane answering any questions.

In court Tuesday, jurors learned the Wards had more than $9 million in joint accounts. Defense attorneys argued Diane was more valuable alive than dead, because for as long as she was alive, the couple’s joint assets were protected from creditors.

As the defense nears the end of its case, it is expected to call several more witnesses Wednesday. Closing arguments could happen as early as then.

Interactive timeline: The Bob Ward case