As Wone trial closes, judge questions defendants' reticence

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; B01

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.

Prosecutors admitted that they might never know who killed Wone or why. "This has been a very, very successful conspiracy and coverup," said Glenn Kirschner, assistant U.S. attorney. "But that's about to end." Kirschner highlighted several examples of the alleged coverup, including inconsistent statements the men gave to detectives as to how the body was found and where the knife was on Wone's body.

Prosecutors said the men never mentioned that Price's younger brother, Michael Price, who was arrested for burglarizing the Swann Street home two months after Wone was killed, had a key to the house. Not mentioning that Michael Price had a key, prosecutors said, was evidence that the men cover for family members who might be involved in a crime.

The men's attorneys said that their clients were truthful when they spoke to detectives and that any discrepancies in their statements were largely because they were in shock after finding their friend dead in their home a few hours earlier.

Defense attorneys said Wone was killed much later than prosecutors theorize. They said that Wone was stabbed a little after 11:45 p.m. and that the men called 911 within a minute or two of discovering Wone's body. Ward's attorney, David Schertler, argued that it was illogical for any of the three men to go to the kitchen, remove one of the knives from the counter and plant the knife on the body if the real murder weapon had been successfully hidden. "It defies logic," he said.

Schertler also reminded Leibovitz about how the prosecution had backed away from some of its original theories, such as that Wone had been drugged before he was killed and that Price's younger brother might had been involved in Wone's death.

Schertler said that the prosecution's case was based largely on "assumptions, speculations and innuendo" and that prosecutors had "cobbled together a patchwork of suspicious circumstances."

"The government has taken innocent behavior and tried to turn it into a web of guilty knowledge," he said.

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