“You have heard all the evidence in this case.”
With that, Allen Superior Judge John Surbeck told a jury of five men, seven women and one alternate that soon the fate of David Bisard will be in its hands.
“When you return on Monday you will hear closing arguments and instructions,” he said.
For nearly three weeks men and women drawn from the largest metropolitan area in northeastern Indiana have heard the witnesses and evidence of a tragedy that ripped the heart of Indianapolis, destroyed careers and forever changed lives.
Eric Wells was 30 years old the day he died on East 56th Street.
David Bisard was a police officer. He still carried on the roster of active Indianapolis Metropolitan police officers, though it is virtually certain he will never again wear the badge and uniform of an IMPD patrolman.
“You are not allowed to separate and will be sequestered,” advised the judge of the new rules that will govern the jurors once they reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday in Courtroom No. 1 on the third floor of the turn-of-the-century courthouse in downtown Fort Wayne.
Nearly 100 witnesses testified. More than 200 pieces of evidence were introduced. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 86 invested a quarter million dollars into Bisard’s defense before pulling the financial plug last spring. The Marion County prosecutor has spent $40,000, not including salaries, on this case. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has expended more than $18,000 running Bisard back and forth between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. The bills from Allen County, if there are any, are yet to come in.
The city of Indianapolis has spent more than $4 million settling lawsuits filed by the estate of Eric Wells, and Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly, who were hurt in the crash. The tab includes another filed by a trio of IMPD commanders who said they were unfairly maligned and demoted due to a rush to judgment by their mayor and public safety director and police chief.
In the first days and weeks after the Aug. 6, 2010, crash with the announcement of Bisard’s drunk driving arrest and suspension, opinions were formed and hardened as allegations of cover up and incompetence were pronounced.
Now it’s up to a group of people, who were barely aware of the tempest rocking the state’s largest city and its police department, who know nothing of Bisard’s history as a police hero and two-time DUI suspect, to decide if an officer and father and accused drunk driver should potentially go to prison for up to 20 years for recklessly killing a man riding his motorcycle to lunch on a hot summer’s day.
Hotels rooms have been booked, the judge advised the jurors. Bring enough clothes for a couple days.
The jury members were told to say goodbye to their friends and family when they leave for the courthouse Monday morning. They’ll not see them again until their work is done.
Counsel will spend the weekend preparing their closing arguments, which will take 90 minutes apiece, said Surbeck, who observed he didn’t want to start statements and deliberations Friday afternoon to avoid, “a knee jerk sort of thing.”
“I think you will get a better result if we wait until Monday,” he said.
With that the jury was wished a good weekend and reminded not to speak in depth with anyone about the case.
After jurors were led from the courtroom, lead defense counsel John Kautzman asked the judge for a directed verdict of not guilty.
“We believe the case has not been proven by the state,” he told the judge. Kautzman later said to reporters such a request is standard at the end of a criminal trial and in this case, he happened to believe it.
Surbeck turned him down.
“I find that there is evidence on each charge and will send the evidence to the jury for deliberation,” he said.
With that, court was adjourned as the judge said he would spend the weekend working on jury instructions that will give jurors the latitude to decide that Bisard can be found guilty of reckless driving even if he was acting within his role as a police officer responding to the search for a drug suspect.
“When the law is violated, it doesn’t matter who violates the law,” said prosecutor Denise Robinson, “whether it’s a civilian, whether it’s me, whether it’s the police officer. There needs to be accounting and accountability.
“These charges are not the State of Indiana versus Officer David Bisard. These charges are the state of Indiana versus David Bisard,” she said.
“Sure, a police officer can drive lights and sirens and exceed the speed limit but from an accountability standpoint, it’s the same for any individual under like circumstances.”
Kautzman made a rare appearance in front of TV cameras in the lobby of the Allen County Courthouse after both sides rested their cases.
“The evidence has been presented to the jury and now we are going to prepare for final arguments,” he told reporters. “We feel good about the case and we’ll wait for the jury verdict and after they’ve heard all the evidence and after they’ve heard all the arguments of counsel.”
After Surbeck left the courtroom, as attorneys packed up their files and the Wells family departed, Bisard stood at the defense table, placed his hands behind his back and was shackled for a return to the Allen County Jail to spend one more weekend speculating on his fate and the circumstances that put him at the center of a case that rocked the city he swore to protect.