As Wone trial closes, judge questions defendants' reticence

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010

As the attorneys laid out their closing arguments in the Robert Wone conspiracy trial Thursday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz seemed to be focused on one crucial question: Why didn't the three men offer police and detectives more information to help solve their friend's slaying four years ago?

Leibovitz, a former prosecutor, repeatedly interrupted defense attorneys' closing arguments with questions as to why their clients did not offer more suggestions as to who could have entered their home Aug. 2, 2006, and fatally stabbed Wone three times in his chest.

"Why wasn't more precise assistance given?" Leibovitz asked Bernie Grimm, attorney for Joseph R. Price, one of the three housemates charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice in Wone's slaying.

During questioning by detectives, all three men -- Price, 39, Dylan M. Ward, 40, and Victor J. Zaborsky, 44 -- refused to speculate on who could have entered the house, say who had keys to the house or even consider that any of the other men could have killed Wone, although all three said they were asleep when Wone was killed. Prosecutors argued that the reason the men's responses were similar and that they refused to implicate one another was that their responses had been rehearsed.

"Why didn't Mr. Zaborsky offer more active suggestions, a more specific effort to help, rather than a passive throwing up of the hands?" the judge inquired, adding that her questions weren't presumed facts or an indication of her verdict.

Leibovitz, and not a jury, has spent almost five weeks hearing the case after defense attorneys requested a non-jury trial and the prosecution consented. Leibovitz said she expects to issue her decision Tuesday. The men face a maximum of more than 30 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

In response to the judge's questions, defense attorneys said their clients never considered identifying anyone by name as Wone's killer, specifically one another, because the men -- who consider themselves a family and are in a three-way committed relationship -- have a tight bond, and implicating another family member wasn't possible.

"If you don't have a universe of people who you think would do this, it wouldn't be natural to offer someone up," said Zaborsky's attorney, Thomas G. Connolly.

It was an emotional day in the muggy and crowded courtroom as attorneys spent almost six hours giving their final arguments in a case that has fascinated much of Washington.

At times during the proceedings, Zaborsky wiped away tears, as did Ward's mother, Diane, who sat on the front row in the audience behind the men and their attorneys. Price and Ward, as they had during most of the trial, stared straight ahead as the prosecutors outlined their theories.

The three men say an intruder scaled an eight-foot fence, came through an unlocked door, ascended to the second floor and stabbed Wone three times, once in the heart. Wone was staying with his three friends that night at their house in the 1500 block of Swann Street NW after working late at his job as general counsel for Radio Free Asia.

Prosecutors said Wone was killed between 11:09 p.m., a minute after Wone sent an e-mail from his BlackBerry, and 11:49 p.m., when Zaborsky called 911. During that period, they believe that Wone was killed and that the men hatched a plan to create an intruder alibi by removing a knife from the kitchen, wiping it in Wone's blood and planting it on his body. Prosecutors also alleged that the men cleaned the blood from Wone's body an in effort to disguise how long he had been stabbed. Prosecutors said the actual murder weapon, possibly a knife from Ward's cutlery set that he kept in his closet, was missing at the time of Wone's slaying.

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