Robert Wone would have died within seconds of stabbing, heart surgeon testifies

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A top heart surgeon at George Washington University Hospital told a D.C. Superior Court judge on Tuesday that Robert Wone would have survived only about five or 10 seconds after he was stabbed in the heart.

Defense attorneys called Farzad Najam, associate director of the hospital's cardiac surgery unit, to the stand to rebut one of the prosecution's key points: that Wone was conscious for about 10 minutes after he was stabbed.

Wone, 32, was killed Aug. 2, 2006, while he slept at 1509 Swann St. NW. The three men living at the house at the time are charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, but no one is charged with killing Wone.

Wone was stabbed three times, and Najam testified that one of the thrusts cut Wone's aorta and caused "torrential hemorrhaging," which would have rendered him unconscious and caused his heart to stop beating in less than 10 seconds.

Najam also said that most of Wone's bleeding would have been internal.

Joseph R. Price, 39, Dylan M. Ward, 40, and Victor J. Zaborsky, 44, are charged with conspiracy and obstruction, and each could face more than 30 years in prison. Prosecutors contend that the three men know who killed Wone and are covering for that person.The defendants say an unknown intruder came through an unlocked back door and killed Wone as he slept on a pull-out bed in a second-floor guest room. Wone was a college friend of Price's and was staying at the Swann Street house after working late at his job as counsel at Radio Free Asia.

Defense attorneys said Wone died almost instantly. But prosecutors said Wone might have survived if the men had promptly called paramedics. Prosecutors say the defendants waited at least 17 minutes to call 911 so they could orchestrate the crime scene.

Defense attorneys hoped that Najam's testimony would undercut earlier testimony from a prosecution witness. A deputy D.C. medical examiner testified that Wone would have been conscious for about 10 minutes after he was stabbed.

The medical examiner said Wone would have been able to move and fight off his assailant during those 10 minutes, but there were no defense wounds on Wone's body.

When paramedics arrived at the Swann Street house about midnight, they found very little blood on or around Wone's body, and prosecutors theorized at trial that the three housemates cleaned up the blood. Another medical expert called by the prosecution testified that it was unusual that such a knife attack would have resulted in so little blood.

Najam's testimony about the blood may have been weakened during questioning. Judge Lynn Leibovitz asked whether the surgeon had ever testified as a cardiac expert during a trial before. Najam said this was his first trial.

Then prosecutor T. Patrick Martin asked Najam whether he was medically qualified to testify about the two stabs to Wone's chest and abdomen that did not pierce the heart. Najam said no. He also said he did not know which of the three wounds was inflicted first.

Defense attorneys are expected to rest their case early Wednesday in the non-jury trial. Leibovitz will decide the defendants' fate.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company