Wone family settles $20 million lawsuit against three former D.C. roommates
Kathy Wone mourned. She went to grief counseling once a week and tried hard to heal. She went back to work part time. She tried to see friends.
But 26 months after Robert Wone was stabbed to death inside his friends’ million-dollar townhouse near Dupont Circle, the killing became a tabloid sensation, and Kathy Wone said she had to start mourning all over again.
Police charged the three friends — who were involved in a sexual relationship with one another — with conspiracy and tampering with the crime scene to conceal the identity of the killer. Fourteen pages of court documents detailed what prosecutors think happened in the upstairs bedroom where Wone was killed on Aug. 2, 2006.
Robert Wone, 32, was probably drugged into a paralytic-like state and sexually assaulted, the documents said. There was no sign of a struggle. Nothing was stolen. And police found sadomasochistic sex toys and machines in the elegant house.
“It was a huge shock for me. It pushed me way back. I felt like Robert had been killed all over again,” Kathy Wone, now 40, said in an interview Wednesday.
Wone spoke on the day that she settled her wrongful death lawsuit against the three men: Joseph Price, 40, Victor J. Zaborsky, 45, and Dylan Ward, 40. Price, Zaborsky and Ward denied any involvement in the killing, and they were acquitted in the criminal case by a Superior Court judge. They said someone broke into the house and killed Wone. No one has been charged in the actual stabbing.
Terms of the civil settlement were not disclosed Wednesday. But in a far-ranging interview, Kathy Wone spoke about her husband, her life since he died and the three men she sued.
“I am moving on. I want to spend the next 40 years of my life focusing on good,” said Wone, a petite, reserved woman with a slightly dimpled, shy smile.
Wone said she looks forward to the next phase of her life, including a trip in October to Korea, where her mother was born.
Moving ahead without her husband, she said, has been challenging. She still smiles when she talks about Robert Wone, whom she referred to as the “cute” and “nerdy” man she had known for more than four years, three of them as husband and wife.
“I miss Robert every day,” said Wone, a lawyer at the American Health Lawyers Association. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. It’s tough going through each day without the person you assumed you’d spend the rest of your life with. I’m getting better at it. It’s lonely.”
Quest for accountability
Kathy Wone filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against Price, Zaborsky and Ward just as the three men went on trial on the criminal charges.
Wone’s team said the suit was less about money than about trying to hold someone accountable for her husband’s death.
But in September, attorneys for the three men told the judge that their clients would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify. During subsequent depositions, the men repeatedly declined to answer questions about the night of the killing, leaving Kathy Wone and her attorneys frustrated and resigned to the fact that they may never learn what happened.
“We couldn’t pierce their assertion,” said Wone attorney Benjamin J. Razi.
Razi added: “We’re much further along in the search for truth than we were back then. Is it perfect justice? No, of course not.”
Razi said the settlement was “as much justice as possible.”
Wone says she was stunned by the men’s decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
“They can rot from the inside out from all the secrets they chose to keep,” she said. “That’s their choice. I chose to move on.”
After the five-week conspiracy trial last summer, D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz acquitted the men. Prosecutors never brought up details of the alleged drugging and sexual assault, because they were not part of the charges.
Price and Zaborksy have since sold the four-bedroom, 3.5-bath townhouse in the 1500 block of Swann Street NW for about $1.5 million. They and Ward have moved to Florida. Before the trial, Price was an intellectual property lawyer with the Arent Fox firm in Washington, Zaborsky worked for a Washington marketing firm and Ward worked as a massage therapist.
Their attorneys — Robert J. Spagnoletti, Frank Daily and Craig D. Roswell — did not return calls Wednesday.
Money from the settlement will be split between Robert Wone’s estate and a law clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, his alma mater. The law clinic will use the money to provide legal aid to inner-city residents.
Five long years
The past five years have been difficult, Kathy Wone said. After she read the charging documents, she went into a further depression. She spent five weeks in bed in the Oakton home she had shared with her husband.
In the days after the men were arrested, Kathy Wone’s body began to deteriorate, she said. Her doctors told her that she had internalized the stress. Fortunately, her lupus, an autoimmune disorder that she had struggled with for years, had not flared up. But her joints stiffened and became inflamed, especially in her knees and elbows. She had to walk with a cane. The left side of her face and body went numb, a result of Bell’s palsy.
She no longer walks with a cane, and she displays few signs of past illness.
Kathy Wone remembers how she felt during the trial. The three men, once friends with her and her husband, ignored her and Robert Wone’s family as they came and went from the courtroom. They never spoke. They never even glanced her way. “We were invisible to them,” she said. “I sensed they had a lot of disdain for us.”
Robert Wone and Price had been good friends at the College of William and Mary. Robert Wone had made plans to work late on the night he was killed because he wanted to meet the night staff at his new job as general counsel for Radio Free Asia. Rather than make the 40-minute Metro and car trip home to Oakton, he had arranged to spend the night at the Swann Street townhouse.
During the trial, Kathy Wone said, she was most upset by onlookers who thought that her husband went to Swann Street that night because he was living a double life and that he was killed during some type of sexual encounter gone wrong.
“It was an assumption by people who did not know Robert at all,” she said. “He was an open book, and he and I had a very deep understanding and trust of each other. People can continue to choose to believe what they want. I’ve moved on.”