Bisher will stand trial for killing

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Intriguing bits of evidence were presented in court last Wednesday as prosecutors presented a portion of their case against Dennis Ray Bisher, the defendant accused of killing a Shell Knob man on July 4th.

A woman's T-shirt soaked in blood, a swastika armband found in the suspect's vehicle and smears of blood discovered on the bureau next to the victim's bed are just a few of the pieces of evidence presented during Bisher's six-hour preliminary hearing.

In presenting their case, Assistant Barry County Prose-cutor Pat Sullivan and Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox offered the testimony of five witnesses, who included law enforcement officers, a crime scene investigator, a forensic patho-logist and an acquaintenance of Bisher's.

Witness testimony, combined with the autopsy report and photographs from the crime scene, were enough for Associate Judge Michael Garrett to bind Bisher over to Barry County Circuit Court to stand trial for first degree murder and armed criminal action in the shooting death of William Nance. The judge's decision came after several hours of witness questioning and cross examination.

Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly was called as the prosecution's first witness. Epperly, who lives in Shell Knob, said he first learned of Nance's death on the morning of July 5 when two women, later identified as Nance's wife, Naomi Nance, and Bisher's girlfriend, Etta Jean Harper, arrived at his office to report the murder.

After listening to the women's story, Epperly said he called the Missouri State Highway Patrol to assist with the investigation and then proceeded to Slinkard's Auto in Cassville to search a burned 2000 Lincoln for Nance's body.

"No body was found in the car," said Epperly, "so we went to the location where the car had been burnt, north of Jenkins on Highway 39."

While Epperly was searching for a body, officers were dispatched to the Nance home in Shell Knob to secure the murder scene. Two officers were also called into the sheriff's department to stay with Naomi Nance and Harper at the station.

After surveying the crash site, Epperly said he proceeded to the Nance residence in Shell Knob, where upon entering the home he immediately noticed that the residence had been burned on the inside.

"It appeared that the carpet was badly burnt all the way down through the house," Epperly said.

Upon further questioning, Epperly testified that Nance's body was eventually recovered in southeast Missouri and returned to Barry County where an autopsy was conducted.

Bisher, who was by now the main suspect in the case, was apprehended by Hollister police officers and arrested on tampering charges. On cross exami-nation, Clate Baker, a public defender representing Bisher, asked Epperly about a gun and holster found at the crash site. Epperly said both items were found at the site and recovered as evidence.

Baker also asked whether or not Naomi Nance and Harper said they were home when the murder occurred. Epperly said the women stated they didn't see it happen. Upon further questioning, Epperly told Baker the women said they were not home when Nance was killed.

Dr. Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist who conducted William Nance's autopsy, was the prosecution's next witness. Dr. Norton said the autopsy was conducted on July 6, almost two days after William Nance was killed.

Looking through a series of photographs, Norton described Nance's body as "starting to decompose with insect activity present." The state of decomposition, according to Norton, made it impossible to determine an exact time of death. Norton did testify that Nance's body was out in the elements for 48 to 60 hours before it was recovered.

Norton testified that there were lacerations on Nance's head as well as a fracturing of the skull consistent with a gunshot wound. One slug was recovered from the left side of Nance's neck by Norton during the autopsy.

"I determined that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head," said Norton.

On cross examination, Baker asked Norton about the amount of blood that would be associated with the injury suffered by Nance.

"Usually scalp wounds bleed, so I would expect a substantial amount of blood at the location where it happened," Norton said.

Baker also asked Norton about the direction the bullet travelled once it entered Nance's skull.

"There was no evidence of internal richochet," said Norton. "It looked like a direct path from the top of the skull to the left side of the neck."

On re-direct, Norton testified that Nance's body did show some signs of dragging.

"There were some scrapes on the inside of the left lower leg and on the top of the foot that could have been caused by dragging," Norton said.

Other testimony was offered by Earl Campbell, a resident of Turkey Mountain II in Shell Knob, who said Bisher visited his home on the day of the murder with a friend of Campbell's. Campbell said he had never met Bisher before that day. He said Bisher invited him to come to the Nance residence on the Fourth of July, but Campbell declined due to a work-related conflict with Nance.

Campbell testified that when he explained why he didn't want to go to the Nance residence, Bisher said "don't worry about it, he won't be here in a few days."

Campbell said he didn't think anything about what Bisher said until he heard about the murder and that Bisher had been arrested. At that point, Campbell said he contacted the police.

"I told the officers everything I knew," Campbell said.

Evidence from the crime scene was presented through the testimony of Sgt. Roger Renken with the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control.

During questioning, the Patrol veteran said he processed the site of the burned car near Jenkins, the Nance residence in Shell Knob, the 2000 Ford Ranger owned by Harper that Bisher was driving when he was arrested in Hollister and the burned up 2000 Lincoln Towncar that Bisher allegedly used to transport Nance's body from the crime scene.

A large portion of his testimony centered on blood patterns found in the Nance's master bedroom.

"There was evidence of a lot of blood loss in the master bedroom," Renken said. "There was blood transfer and blood droplets on the bed frame and box springs, a blood stain impact pattern on the headboard and blood on the head portion of the mattress."

Renken said there were also "cast-off" blood stains on the ceiling, nightstand and curtains. He also testified that portions of the carpet had been cut aw0ay in the bedroom and living room. Renken said he found a box of plastic trash bags in the bedroom along with a bottle of window cleaner, a bottle of Clorox, a Kirby vaccum and several rags and towels in a pile of carpet and padding debris near the door of the bedroom.

When questioned about the weapon that was recovered from the crash site, Renken said it was loaded with one live round in the chamber and four live rounds in the magazine. Renken told prosecutors that the brand of ammunition matched a partially full box of ammunition found at the Nance residence.

On cross examination, Baker questioned Renken about the blood evidence found at the scene. The Patrol sergeant told Baker that the blood pattern found on the side of the bed where Nance usually slept was consistent with blunt force trauma. He said the only blood evidence found at the scene that could have been caused by a gunshot wound was found on a shirt, which was later identified as being worn by Harper.

"I found evidence of high velocity blood stains on the shirt," Renken said. The T-shirt was found by officers in a trash can in the kitchen.

Chief Deputy David Bowman with the Barry County Sheriff's Department was the last individual to testify at the hearing.

Bowman told the court about an interview he conducted with Bisher on July 6 at the Cassville Police Department. According to Bowman, Bisher changed his story three times during the interview.

"During the first part of the interview, Bisher said he and Mr. Nance got along very well," said Bowman, who explained that Bisher, Harper and the Nances were all living at the Nances' residence at the time of the murder. "His initial response was he had no knowledge of Mr. Nance's death."

Bowman said Bisher later admitted he and Nance had gotten into an alteraction outside the Nance home on July 4. Bisher told Bowman that Nance approached him with a hammer and then chased him into the house where the altercation continued.

Bisher said Nance then retrieved a handgun, and the two men got into a "scuffle."

"He said as they were wrestling around, the gun discharged and Mr. Nance fell to the ground," Bowman said.

Later in the interview, Bisher changed his story for a third time and told Bowman the alteraction actually occurred in Nance's bedroom.

In a second interview, which was witnessed by Sheriff Epperly and Sgt. Larry Wolters with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Bisher went into more detail about the shooting, according to Bowman.

"He said Nance wouldn't stay down after he'd been struck in the head with a hammer," Bowman said. "Bisher said he (Nance) was tough, he kept coming back. After he got shot, Bisher said it ended."

Bowman also testified that Bisher told him he "made" Harper and Naomi Nance help him clean-up after the shooting.

"He said anything they did was because they were afraid of him and he forced them to do it," Bowman said.

According to Bowman's testimony, Bisher loaded Nance's body into the trunk of the victim's Lincoln and drove off. Just north of Jenkins, a deer ran across the road and Bisher ran off the road to avoid hitting it and instead hit a tree. Bowman said Bisher was able to get a ride back to the Nance residence in Shell Knob where he got Harper's pickup and got her to accompany him back to the accident site to retrieve the body.

"He got a tarp from the shed and used it to cover the body up in the truck," Bowman said. "He left again to go back to Scott County. He said he took the body to a place he hadn't been before and left it out in the open, covered by a little debris."

When asked why he killed Nance, Bisher told Bowman "he couldn't stand to see someone hurt other people."

Bisher is scheduled to appear for arraignment in Barry County Circuit Court on Dec. 20 at 9:30 a.m. In the meantime, he continues to be held in Barry County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond.

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