The first day of the David Bisard trial saw witnesses shed tears and struggle to regain their composure as they told jurors what the scene the day an IMPD ran down a trio of motorcyclists and killed one on the city’s northside.
Jennifer Westfall and Samantha Daniels saw the carnage on East 56th Street on August 6, 2010, as Bisard’s patrol car slammed into motorcyclist Eric Wells and his friends Kurt Weekly and Mary Mills.
During opening statements, lead prosecutor Denise Robinson told a jury drawn from Allen County that Wells was killed, Mills injured and Weekly so severely hurt he wasn’t expected to survive.
The case was moved to Fort Wayne due to extensive pre-trial publicity in Indianapolis. and in the belief that, as Indiana’s second largest city, residents would be familiar with the street and traffic conditions that were present the day of the crash.
“I think the jury is getting an idea of…they’ve got knowledge of Indianapolis now or at least the area of Indianapolis where they have to have knowledge,” said Robinson, “and they’ve got knowledge of what happened at the scene.
“Right now the jury needs to know that people’s lives were affected.”
Jurors heard from eleven witnesses on the first day, including IMPD Officer Shannon Harmon who said Bisard was headed his way on a non-emergency run when the crash occurred.
Motorist Barbara Belt told jurors she was eastbound on 56th Street that Friday morning when the accident happened in front of her and she watched as Bisard left his patrol car to help the victims.
“I saw him get out of the car and kneel down to the man on his side of the street. I just saw him bending over. I don’t know what he was doing. He didn’t get up from there after he got down on his knee. All I saw was he kept bending over. I had no idea what he was doing.”
Another witness told jurors that she watched Bisard pace the accident scene with his arms folded.
“I just asked him if everything was okay,” said Tamika Franklin, “and he nodded, ‘Yes.'”
“This continues to be a tragedy for everyone involved,” defense counsel John Kautzman told reporters after court was adjourned for the day. “Our hearts continue to go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.
“At the end of this trial there will be no winners regardless of what the outcome is.
“This trial is merely about whether a crime was committed and nothing else and its never going to change.”
“The defense is really going to focus on the problems of proving intoxication,” said former prosecutor Colin Andrews, a Fort Wayne private attorney who sat in on the opening statements when the State told jurors that Bisard tested .19% for blood alcohol in his system, more than two times above the legal limit to drive in Indiana. “Intoxication has to be proven with evidence and what they said was, ‘There really isn’t a lot of evidence of intoxication.'”
Under cross examination, none of the witnesses said they spotted any signs of intoxication of Bisard that day.
Paramedics and emergency medical technicians told the jury about the efforts they made that day to save Wells’ life as the motorcyclist’s family watched from the front row of the courtroom.
Bisard’s wife and a family member left the gallery before opening statements and witnesses described the scene of chaos and desperation at the accident scene.
Everyday of the trial Bisard arrives through a basement tunnel at the Allen County courthouse with his hands cuffed behind his back, his feet shackled, in a jail jumpsuit.
He emerges an hour later in the courtroom in a business suit, his shackles removed before jurors enter the jury box.
“If he comes out very innocent and he comes off cherubic or what have you, it can also weigh against the prosecution and their ability to get a conviction because they might actually like the guy,” said Andrews. “They might see him sitting there…they’re going to be here for weeks and develop an attachment to somebody. It can happen and it can really hurt your case.”
In the courtroom Bisard has appeared more animated and involved in his case, taking notes and conferring with attorneys as opposed to his motions hearings this summer when he appeared to show no interest in the proceedings.
“Body language speaks more than words do,” said Andrews. “If he’s slumped over sometimes you can just have that guilty look on your face. The jurors are going to see that and its going to weigh in on their decision, right or wrong.”
Aaron Wells, Eric’s father, was emotionally shaken when 911 dispatch tapes of calls for help were played for the jury.
The jurors and the courtroom will hear from Mills and Weekly as they are called to testify Thursday.
Before the trial began Wednesday morning a juror informed Judge John Surbeck that he inadvertently learned details about the case and Bisard’s second DUI arrest this past spring from a co-worker Monday night.
Judge Surbeck praised the juror’s ethics in informing the court of the encounter, and while he appreciated the man’s promise to not let the information cloud his judgement of the case, the judge said, “The whole thing doesn’t feel right to start out a step down, so to speak, and it certainly was not his fault and he has been professional in handling this, so, I am going to excuse him.”
The juror was replaced with an alternate, the remaining six man/six woman panel was sworn in and assured that their departed colleague did nothing to warrant his dismissal and, after more than three years of debate, legal maneuvering and controversy, the trial of David Bisard began.