ALLEN COUNTY – A woman who has kept her silence for more than three years took the witness stand in a Fort Wayne courtroom to defend her husband against charges that he was a reckless drunken cop who killed a motorcyclist in 2010.
She was followed to the stand by an expert who doubted the credibility of the prosecution’s drunk driving blood test results.
The defense struck emotional and scientific chords in the 13th day of the David Bisard trial.
Lora Bisard, wife of the suspended IMPD officer, is the mother of two children, a registered nurse and a former Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy.
She testified that while there was a “small amount of vodka” in the couple’s Lawrence home the night before the crash, she detected no signs of intoxication in her husband in the 17 hours before the accident on the morning of Friday, Aug. 6, 2010.
Mrs. Bisard said she found out about the crash later that afternoon and her husband was upset but not intoxicated when he spoke with her.
That weekend, the couple had another conversation, she testified, when Bisard expressed his concern that his blood test would show residual alcohol in his system in violation of IMPD rules.
An internal IMPD report on the Bisard case filed two months later reads: “Mrs. Bisard told Sgt. Heddon that her husband drank the night before and woke up at about 0200 hrs that morning to ‘get a drink.’”
“That is not a statement that I made,” Mrs. Bisard said under oath in Judge John Surbeck’s courtroom.
Mrs. Bisard also said she did not overhear any conversations between her husband and other policemen when fellow officers from the IMPD K9 unit showed up at the home where the couple formally lived on the evening Bisard was suspended and first charged with drunk driving.
The officers were there to take possession of Bisard’s patrol car, police equipment and K9.
Another officer testified that he overheard a statement, either by Bisard or his wife, about the defendant’s previous alcohol consumption.
While answering a question from a juror and admitting she wasn’t home the night before the crash, Mrs. Bisard testified that her husband “told me over the weekend following the terrible accident that he had a couple vodka and Cokes the evening of (Aug. 5) and that was before bed.”
Deputy Prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth, recalling Mrs. Bisard’s career as a deputy sheriff, asked her if most drunk drivers admit to having only two drinks when they are pulled over.
“A couple,” was her characterization.
Bisard is accused of driving drunk on-duty when his patrol car slammed into a trio of motorcyclists on East 56th Street at Brendon Way South Drive on Aug. 6, 2010.
The prosecution has presented evidence that Bisard’s blood measured more than twice the legal limit for alcohol to drive in Indiana.
Dr. Harry Plotnick, a forensic toxicologist, told jurors that the Marion County Forensic Services lab where Bisard’s blood was examined does not reach the industry’s “gold standard” for equipment or testing.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson was aggressive during cross-examination in attacking Plotnick’s doubts about the findings of the State’s chemists and witnesses who vouched for the credibility of the blood samples and their testing.
“You don’t know either way do you, sir?” Robinson asked about Plotnick’s opinions on possible mishandling or faulty testing of the samples.
“I do not,” Plotnick answered.
Robinson also cited studies that found little degradation of a blood sample stored for several years at room temperature.
Plotnick said he did not disagree with those studies. One vial of Bisard’s blood has remained refrigerated from the first hours it was taken.
The second vial was unrefrigerated for five months in late 2011 and early 2012 and, as a result, was the focus of an investigation that resulted in the reassignment of IMPD Chef Paul Ciesielski, the eventual resignation of Public Safety Director Frank Straub and the disclosure of surreptitious audio taping of Robinson by IMPD detectives.
Plotnick referred to Marion County’s process of testing Bisard’s blood as “antiquated” as he seemed to struggle to articulate responses to questions from both the prosecution and defense.
At one point, in rebutting a question posed by Robinson, Plotnick said, “You’re asking me to speculate.”
The prosecutor answered, “Sir, you’re speculating on everything else.”
In a question passed to the judge, a juror asked, “Would it be fair to say none of the blood tests done by this lab are reliable?”
Plotnick turned to the jury and said, “Yes.”
Jurors asked several specific and detailed questions about the clotting and testing of blood and the fermentation of glucose into alcohol in a blood sample.
Plotnick told jurors that the only way to know if a blood vial was tampered with would be to determine if a seal had been broken.
Marion County does not apply such seals to its blood vial evidence.
“Have you ever been involved in a case in which the blood vial was tampered with?” a juror asked.
Plotnick turned to the jury box and answered, “No.”
Bisard’s case was moved to Fort Wayne due to extensive pretrial publicity in Indianapolis.
During videotaped testimony, Officer Roderick Wallace said Bisard did not appear drunk two hours after the crash.
Also on videotape, Officer Ron Shellnutt said Bisard called him the night before the crash and exhibited no signs of inebriation.
Prosecutors have been thrust into the unusual position of cross-examining police officers called as defense witnesses. Typically, officers appear in court in support of the State’s case.
Officer Michael Hegg testified that when he responded to the crash scene he told Bisard that he was “in the middle of a critical incident.”
Under cross examination, lead prosecutor Denise Robinson stood and, pointing her finger at the defendant in a rare show of animation, asked Hegg, “Did you ever consider that (Bisard) might have been the cause of the incident?”
Hegg answered with a mumbled “yes.” Robinson said Hegg’s response was not a clear declaration, but follow up questions revealed that Hegg was not at the scene as an investigator but rather to support Bisard emotionally.
When asked by the defense if he considered giving Bisard a field sobriety test at the scene, Hegg said, “I had no reason to give one based on what I did not see.”
The trial is expected to go to the jury on Nov. 4.
After viewing video animations that depicted the conditions that existed just before and during the crash that took his son’s life, Aaron Wells’ eyes were red rimmed and his wife Mary dabbed at tears as the couple spoke with reporters.
“I mean, you’re watching a video that was made…you’re seeing things that you only imagined before,” said Wells who has relocated from his Florida home to Indiana to observe the trial. “You’re seeing that car approach at a very high speed. You’re seeing those motorcycles and…knowing that one of them is your son…that’s pretty tough.”
Officer Steve Park testified that he was at the wheel of the IMPD patrol car that was used in the video recreation Aug. 6, 2012.
“You know what I think is even more shocking that the video,” said Wells, “is the police officer that was driving that car to make that video…hearing him explain how frightening it was to accelerate up to David Bisard’s speeds that day in such a short distance…how they had to stop filming and move traffic back to Arlington. Even under a controlled situation, the dangers that were there and he even said it was very frightening for him doing those speeds on a city street.
“He explained how his foot was all the way into the accelerator, all the way to the floorboard…and reaching 76 miles per hour was difficult in his words to do and it really did frighten him.”
Wells, his wife and his son’s widow Luisa have attended every day of the trial, sitting in the gallery just feet from the jury box.
Across the aisle, in the front row of the defense side of the courtroom gallery, are members of Bisard’s family who watch every day as he is led into and out of the courtroom, his hands cuffed, the shackles removed or affixed outside the presence of the jury.
The seven women and five men of the jury are not aware that Bisard remains jailed due to a second DUI arrest last spring in Lawrence. As far as they know, he is a free man to attend his trial and participate in his own defense.
Lora Bisard has also been a daily fixture at her husband’s trial, but she, too, is a participant outside of the jury’s presence.
At the lunch break, Mrs. Bisard was visibly upset as reporters left the courtroom following the judge’s decision on her testimony.
Until now she has been occasionally spotted in the lobby of the Allen County Courthouse in the company of family or carrying a garment bag containing the suits her husband wears in court after he changes out of a jail jumpsuit every morning shortly after eight o’clock.
The suspended patrolman’s wife spends her days on a wooden bench, just outside the doors to Superior Courtroom 1 on the third floor of the courthouse, reading a book or exchanging light conversation with officers who are friends of her husband or witnesses before they testify.
Mrs. Bisard, listed as a potential defense witness, could not be in the courtroom during previous testimony.
Before the jury’s entry into the ornate marbled courtroom of Surbeck, Lora Bisard occasionally speaks a couple brief words to her husband or simply acknowledges his presence before departing for the hallway.
Bisard showed no visible reaction to his wife’s testimony.
The veteran officer and father of two told investigators he took the couple’s young daughters to a summer soccer camp the morning of the crash.
The defendant became more animated during the first week of the trial, following the tearful testimony of Luisa Wells, and has written notes to and conferred with his attorneys at the defense table often as fellow officers have testified.
There are other times when Bisard does not seem to be focused on witness or scientific testimony that is either repetitive or dense and technical.
Aaron Wells told Fox 59 News that at a pretrial hearing Bisard offered a brief apology for his role in Eric Wells’ death.
“Everybody tends to handle things differently,” said Wells. “I would like to think I would handle it a whole lot differently if I had done something like that than what he has, but maybe that’s who he is.”
The Wells family is listening to the second round of officers and witnesses who have testified that they saw no signs of intoxication that day.
“I’m not so sure that we’re not coming into the tougher times right now the defense putting on their case,” said Wells, “because they’re defending the police officer that killed our son.”
Before jurors were seated for the morning session, Surbeck reflected on his decision Tuesday that while emails written by an IMPD commander to other Metro police department employees were a violation of his separation of witness order, they did not prove prejudicial to either side of the case.
Surbeck said he would consider inserting those emails into the court record so that they could be publicly examined.
The officer who wrote the emails based on previous witness testimony, Major Greg Biebderich, is present in the courthouse but not in the courtroom.
A source who has read the emails told Fox 59 News that the information is essentially innocuous and less detailed than what the reader of a typical media website might encounter.