Bisher convicted of first degree murder

Thursday, September 7, 2006

After deliberating for nearly three hours, a 12-member Barry County jury pronounced Dennis Ray Bisher guilty of first degree murder and armed criminal action in the shooting death of 65-year-old William Nance, of Shell Knob, on July 4, 2005.

Before leaving the courtroom to deliberate, Judge J. Edward Sweeney read 29 instructions to the jury that they were to use in determining their verdict and both the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments. After four full days of testimony, jurors spent approximately three hours in the jury room deciding Bisher's fate.

The guilty verdict was welcome news for Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox who had been preparing for the murder trial for close to a year.

"I'm very pleased with the verdict, and I'm happy for Mr. Nance's daughters," said Cox the day after the jury returned its verdicts of guilty. "They were present during all five days of the trial and active in the case. They came to Cassville from the Dallas area. I think the verdict was a major relief for them."

Cox and Assistant Prosecutor Pat Sullivan presented a case that was supported by over 100 exhibits of physical evidence and photographs collected at the various crime scenes and testimony from about a dozen witnesses.

Jurors were shown the gun used to murder Nance as well as the burned remains of a small sledge hammer used to beat Nance in the head before the killing shot was fired.

The gun and the hammer were found at an accident site on Highway 39 north of Jenkins where Bisher crashed the Nances' Lincoln Town Car in the early morning hours of July 4, 2005. The crash occurred as Bisher was fleeing the Nance home in Shell Knob with Nance's dead body in the trunk.

Bisher attempted to burn the car, along with items of evidence, and when this plan didn't work, he returned to the Nance home and got a pickup owned by his girlfriend, Etta Jane Harper. Bisher travelled back to the crash site, where he retrieved Nance's body, drove to southeast Missouri and dumped the victim in a remote area of Scott County near the Mississippi River.

The prosecutors showed the jury a videotaped interview conducted with Bisher following his arrest in Hollister on July 5, 2005. In that videotape, Bisher eventually admits he killed Nance and claimed he shot him following a struggle.

"In his statement, he starts off by claiming ignorance," said Cox in his closing argument. "But all the way through he's fishing. He knew how Bill Nance was killed, where he was hurt, where he was shot. He knows his one chance is this ridiculous story about a struggle.

"He mentions the gun first. He mentions the hammer. Then he takes a smoke break and comes back. He jumps on the self-defense story," continued Cox. "The physical evidence at the scene doesn't support that. The condition of the house doesn't support that."

Defense attorneys Clate Baker and David Back told jurors a different version of Nance's murder. They claimed that Bisher did not shoot Nance but did dispose of his dead body. The defense alleged that either Naomi Nance, William Nance's widow, or Harper, Bisher's girlfriend, actually shot William Nance and then attempted burned the trailer to hide evidence.

Baker keyed in on a Cafe 55 women'spajama topthat was found in the kitchen trash can and was submitted as evidence in the case.

According to Sgt. Roger Renken, crime scene investigator with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the T-shirt had over 100 tiny drops of blood on it, which were consistent with a high velocity blood stain. A second pink pajama top found with the Cafe 55 T-shirt also had some high velocity blood specks on it also. This type of blood pattern, Renken explained, is caused by a gun shot.

"The physical evidence doesn't lie," said Baker. "The clothing the two women were sleeping in, found all together, had high velocity impact splatter on them. It was the only place they found any."

Baker also questioned the women's failure to report the murder to the Barry County Sheriff's Department for over a day.

The defense also claimed that Bisher's videotaped confession was a false confession he made up to protect Harper and Naomi Nance.

"What physical evidence did they provide to show you Dennis Bisher was in Bill and Naomi's bedroom at the time he was shot?" asked Baker during closing arguments. "None. One of those two women had to be in there, wearing that shirt. If you look at all the evidence in this case and look at what Dennis said in the video, you see he was falsely confessing.

"The story he tells doesn't really match the physical evidence, because it's a lie," Baker continued. "He didn't kill him. Dennis didn't pull the trigger."

Sullivan countered the defense's claims by reminding jurors of the evidence presented in the case.

"Once Dennis Bisher got past the initial fairytale, he never wavered from the fact that he was the one who pulled the trigger and shot and killed Bill Nance," said Sullivan. "When Dennis Bisher did say 'I did this,' he was emphatic about it. This defendant repeatedly, consistently and emphatically said 'I did do this.'"

After the guilty verdicts were announced and the jury dismissed, Bisher was returned to the Barry County Jail to await sentencing. He has been an inmate at the local jail for the past 14 months.

Bisher's sentencing is scheduled to take place on Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. in Barry County Circuit Court.

Naomi Nance and Harper have been charged with second degree arson after the two women admitted they tried to burn down the Nance trailer to hide William Nance's murder. Naomi Nance and Harper claim that Bisher forced them to clean up the home following the shooting.

Hearings for both Naomi Nance and Harper are scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 21 in Barry County Circuit Court. Naomi Nance is being represented by high profile Springfield defense attorney Dee Wampler, and Harper is being represented by John Lewright, of Cassville.

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