The Crime Scene: Wone roommates won't testify in trial

By Keith L. Alexander
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 4:57 PM

The three roommates named as defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Robert E. Wone already have invoked their legal rights not to testify and avoid self-incrimination, lawyers told a D.C. Superior Court judge Thursday.

Patrick M. Regan, the Wone family attorney, said the three men have informed the attorneys on both sides that they do not plan to offer any written testimony during the early stages of the lawsuit and likely will not testify during trial. That often is called "pleading the fifth," a reference to the fifth amendment of the constitution.

"Defendants don't assert their fifth amendment rights if they are not guilty of something," Regan said outside the courtroom following the hearing.

At the hearing, the trial was again rescheduled, to Oct. 17, 2011, from Sept. 12, 2011.

Wone, a lawyer who worked as general counsel for Radio Free Asia, was found stabbed to death in the men's home at 1509 Swann St. NW on Aug. 2, 2006. The roommates, Dylan M. Ward, Joseph R. Price and Victor J. Zaborsky, said an unknown intruder came into the townhouse and killed Wone. No one has been charged in the slaying.

In June, after a five-week trial, Price, Zaborsky and Ward wereacquitted on charges of covering up for the killer and tampering with evidence. Wone's wife Katherine and his family filed the lawsuit when the men were arrested and charged with conspiracy in 2008.

Thursday's hearing was one of the first in the civil trial. None of the defendants was present.

The three men have gotten new attorneys for the civil case, and only one of the half-dozen or so attorneys who represented them at the criminal trial was at the hearing. Robert J. Spagnoletti, who represented Ward, informed Judge Brook Hedge that another attorney would assume the lead role.

While the criminal trial lasted five weeks, it was unclear how long the civil trial could last. Regan said he should be able to present his case in about six days, but Spagnoletti said the defense could take as long as three weeks. One challenge, Hedge said, would be picking a jury because of the intense publicity of the case and previous trial.

During the hearing, attorneys said they plan to file a motion to compel the men to testify. Hedge acknowledged that the "fifth amendment is going to be the biggest issue."

Although Hedge spoke as if she plans to oversee the trial, the judge informed court officials that she plans to retire in December. It was unclear if Hedge plans to leave the bench when she retires or apply for senior status, which would mean she could still preside over the case.

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