By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; B01
Sitting in a small, windowless room, Joseph R. Price, one of the men charged with covering up the killing of Washington lawyer Robert Wone, repeatedly tells detectives that neither he nor his two housemates were involved in the slaying, as seen on a police video that was played at the three men's trial Monday.
The interview took place in the middle of the night at the violent crimes branch of the D.C. police department, just a few hours after officers and paramedics had been called to 1509 Swann St. NW late on Aug. 2, 2006.
On the tape, Price, wearing a blue dress shirt with half of it tucked into his dark pants, is sitting in a corner next to a desk between two detectives. At times he sips on a bottle of soda and checks his BlackBerry.
In court Monday, Detective Sgt. Daniel Wagner told D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz that police do not routinely videotape witnesses while they make statements. But he said that during questioning, police thought Price's "story wasn't adding up," so they did.
Prosecutors have charged Price, 39, and housemates Dylan M. Ward, 40, and Victor J. Zaborsky, 44, with tampering with evidence, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. They face a maximum of 38 years in prison if found guilty on all counts. Testimony in the trial began last week.
In the 34-minute taped interview, Price tells detectives how Wone arrived at the men's million-dollar townhouse shortly after 10:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 2006, after working late at his job as general counsel at Radio Free Asia. He went there to avoid commuting home to Oakton, Price said.
The men stood in the kitchen, Price says on the tape, talking and drinking wine. Shortly before 11 p.m., everyone decided to go to sleep. Wone, 32, who was staying in a guest room on the second floor, said he was going to take a shower. Price and Zaborsky went to their third-floor bedroom. Price later watched a show on Spike TV, turning off the TV about 11:10 p.m.
Minutes after turning off the TV and falling asleep, Price says, he woke up after hearing the chime triggered on the back door. Minutes later, he and Zaborsky heard loud grunts coming from the second floor. The two men went downstairs, where they saw Wone's body on a pullout bed. A knife was on Wone's stomach, and there was blood. Wone had been stabbed three times in the chest.
Price says he moved the knife and lifted Wone's T-shirt. "There was a lot of blood on his chest," Price tells the detectives.
The house's alarm did not go off because the men never set it at night when they're home, Price says.
After finding Wone's body, Price says, he told Zaborsky to call 911. Records show Zaborsky made the call about 11:49 p.m. Ward, Price said, remained in his bedroom. "I don't think he heard the chime," Price said.
Price repeatedly tells detectives that the three men are innocent and that Zaborsky asked the 911 operator what time it was when he made the call, a move prosecutors found suspicious.
"I know both Victor and Dylan a lot better than I know my own mother. They couldn't even punch someone, let alone kill anyone," Price says. "That's ridiculous."
Price says on the tape that after Wone's body had been found, Ward noticed that the back door was ajar. Price says he might have left it unlocked after inspecting a light on the patio.
"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I've never been mugged. I've never had my house broken into," Price says.
"You still haven't had your house broken into," Wagner says. "Your story is starting to bother me." Price does not waver from his account.
The detectives tell Price they are skeptical of his story because there was no sign of a break-in, no broken door or window, no crushed leaves or footprints outside by the fence, and no fingerprints. "Nobody broke into the house that night. There's no evidence," Wagner says.
"Maybe somebody had a key," asks another detective, Milton Norris. But Price says that only his female tenant, who rents the basement apartment, and contractors had a key.
Price doesn't say that his brother Michael, 38, who was charged with stealing items out of his house about two months after the killing, also had a key.
Prosecutors said they think Price and his housemates might be covering for Michael Price, who they say might have been involved in Wone's slaying. He has not been charged in the case.