Wone trial set for closing statements; judge expected to rule next week

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010

After almost five weeks, the attorneys in the Robert Wone conspiracy trial are set to deliver closing arguments.

Defense attorneys for the three housemates charged with covering up the 2006 fatal stabbing of the Washington lawyer rested their case Wednesday, after one week of testimony and seven witnesses. Prosecutors had finished up last week.

Prosecutors tried to prove in D.C. Superior Court that Joseph R. Price, 39, Dylan M. Ward, 40, and Victor J. Zaborsky, 44 -- who allowed Wone to stay at their home Aug. 2, 2006, when he was slain -- know who killed him and conspired to stage the crime scene and cover for the killer.

During the past week, the defense attorneys called a string of witnesses, including medical experts, a housekeeper of a former neighbor of the men, a paramedic and Ward's mother, in hopes of poking holes in the prosecution's theories. Prosecutors say that the knife found on a nightstand next to Wone's body was planted and was not the murder weapon, that Wone had been killed as much as 20 to 40 minutes before the men called 911 and that they used the delay to orchestrate the coverup.

Defense attorneys said that an unknown intruder entered the house at 1509 Swann St. NW through an unlocked back door and stabbed Wone in the chest three times as he slept in a pull-out bed in a guestroom. The lawyers said their clients called 911 within a minute of finding Wone's body.

Wone, who was general counsel at Radio Free Asia, was spending the night at the house after working late that evening, instead of going back to Oakton, where he lived with his wife, Katherine. Price and Wone had planned a business breakfast for the next morning.

Before the trial, Price, Ward and Zaborsky waived their right to a jury trial, which means D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz is the sole arbiter of their fate. Leibovitz, who has been a stickler for timeliness during the trial, could issue her verdict Friday. But most court observers said they expect her to spend a few days considering the mounds of evidence and testimony and to render a verdict early next week.

The men also waived their right to testify at the trial. At Wednesday's hearing, Leibovitz asked each to confirm that they had waived that right, and each said he had.

Although it wasn't a murder trial, the proceedings -- with more than 9,000 exhibits and about 40 witnesses over four weeks -- often resembled a complicated murder case more than a conspiracy trial.

Authorities, citing a lack of evidence, have not arrested or charged anyone with murder in Wone's killing. But prosecutors had originally charged the three men with tampering with the crime scene. Last week, Leibovitz acquitted Ward and Zaborsky of that charge, citing a lack of evidence.

Although the men are being tried together, Leibovitz could issue separate verdicts for each.

The three men, who refer to themselves as a "family" and say they are in a committed three-way romantic relationship, could each face a maximum of more than 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

During the trial, the curious have poured into Courtroom 310 to see the proceedings, get a glimpse of the suspects or watch any one of the noted criminal defense attorneys square off against the prosecution. Court officials, expecting a large crowd for Thursday's arguments, have set up an overflow room where people can listen to audio of the proceedings.

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