ORLANDO, Fla. – Defense attorneys for former Isleworth millionaire Bob Ward say they have found "shocking new evidence" and had planned to present it during Ward's sentencing hearing Monday.
- Bob Ward awaits sentencing for death of wife, Diane, in 2009
- Attorneys planned to show suicide note they say written by Diane
- Sentencing at Orange County Courthouse to be rescheduled
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But the hearing in front of Judge Letitia Marques at the Orange County Courthouse in downtown Orlando was canceled Monday afternoon. No date for a rehearing was announced.
Diane Ward was shot to death in the couple's Isleworth mansion in 2009. Prosecutors say it was an intentional act to keep her from testifying in an upcoming business-related bankruptcy investigation.
In February, a jury convicted Bob Ward of manslaughter in what was his second trial. A previous conviction was overturned.
Defense attorneys said Bob Ward accidentally shot his wife as the couple struggled over the gun.
At trial, defense attorneys painted Diane as a suicidal and unstable person.
Defense attorneys now say that weeks after the second trial, a suicide note written by Diane Ward was found in the couple's Atlanta home. It was reportedly found by an estate sales professional in a closet in the master bedroom.
"New evidence strongly supports other defense evidence that at or near the time of her death Diane Ward was unstable, extremely emotionally volatile, and thinking and acting in a life-threatening manner," attorneys said in a court filing.
"I was up on a ladder in a small closet in the master bedroom ... when I noticed a pink notebook next to some hair rollers ... I opened the notebook and found a note and some cards with 'Diane Ward' printed on them," Jollie McCaleb said in the court filing.
The alleged suicide note, with "Diane Ward" letterhead, read:
"Dear Mallory and Sarah
Please know how much I love you -- I don’t know how it happened for me to end up like this. I want you to have wonderful lives and know that I will always be watching out for you both.
Take care of Daddy. I love you more than you will ever know. Take care of the dogs. They will need you."
Bob Ward's attorneys say his wife, Diane, penned this suicide note, which shows her mental state before her 2009 death. (Orange Clerk of Courts)
Defense attorneys say a former FBI handwriting expert can testify that he thinks the handwriting is that of Diane Ward.
Prosecutors think the suicide note would not have any merit at trial and question the timing of the note being found.
"There is an argument to be made by the State that in the more than eight years since Diane Ward's death, someone should have gone through her belongings before the trial in February 2018," prosecutors said in a court filing. "Sarah Ward first discloses the discovery of this note to the Defendant on April 11, 2018 during a phone call with the Defendant at 9:35 a.m. ... Sarah states that the note was found in an item typically kept in Diane Ward's purse. Sarah had seen it sitting there for years."
Prosecutors also contend the suicide note does not have a date and does not provide any context about her mindset on the night of her death.
"Even if there were a nexus to the relevant timeframe, Diane Ward did not commit suicide on the night she was shot and killed," prosecutors argued in their filing. "This was also the testimony of Defendant's own medical examiner. The Defendant's statement to (Spectrum News 13) was not that he walked in on Diane Ward attempting to kill herself -- the Defendant's statement to (Spectrum News 13) was that Diane Ward snuck up behind him and pointed the gun at him. This would be homicidal ideation being acted out -- not a suicidal ideation."
Spectrum News 13 legal analyst David Haas said judges have discretion at sentencing.
"Any time there is newly discovered evidence, one question is, could it have been found through reasonable diligence in the underlying case, and then is it more of the same kind of evidence?
"There are sentencing guidelines from the state of Florida that the judge has to follow, but the judge does have some discretion in what he or she wants to do in sentencing," Haas said.
Ward faces a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 30 years.
In their filing, defense attorneys are asking for time served. Ward has already spent six years in prison. They also point to a series of health-related issues.
"These conditions developed or worsened significantly during the six years Mr. Ward has already spent in prison," defense attorneys said.