Expert says knife in Wone case may have been tampered with

Robert Wone was found dead in a Northwest D.C. townhouse in August 2006. The three defendants who were charged with conspiring to cover up his death were found not guilty on June 29, 2010. No one has been arrested in his slaying.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

Prosecutors in the Robert Wone conspiracy trial called a well-known former FBI forensics expert to the witness stand on Thursday hoping to show that the three housemates charged in the case had tampered with the knife found near Wone's body four years ago.

But Douglas Deedrick, who also testified in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, may not have helped the government prove its point, experts said later.

Deedrick's testimony had been widely anticipated around the courthouse, and he was considered one of the star witnesses in the high-profile case. Deedrick had performed tests on the knife, and his testimony was offered to help prosecutors prove that the three defendants had planted a knife that was not used in the killing and otherwise staged the crime scene to make it look as if an intruder had entered the house and stabbed Wone.

After several hours of arguments between prosecutors and defense attorneys in D.C. Superior Court about what Deedrick could say, the expert gave his finding: The knife left on a nightstand next to Wone's body "could have been" wiped with a towel, bearing spots of Wone's blood, that also was found at the scene.

Deedrick said he made his findings after examining bloody swipe marks left on both sides of the boning knife. He then performed a common forensic test in which he swiped a similar knife on a similar cotton towel that he had dipped in horse blood.

"The marks on the knife are similar to the marks on the crime-scene knife," Deedrick said as the trial neared the end of its second week of testimony.

Joseph R. Price, 39, Victor J. Zaborsky, 44, and Dylan M. Ward, 40, are charged with conspiracy for allegedly covering up the circumstances of the Aug. 2, 2006, killing of Wone, as the Washington lawyer stayed in a guest room in their house in the 1500 block of Swann Street NW. Each faces up to 38 years in prison if convicted. They are not charged with killing Wone.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz did not allow Deedrick to testify about another test on fibers found on the knife. Prosecutors had argued that some of the fibers came from the bloody towel and not the T-shirt Wone had worn to bed that night. Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Lieber asked Deedrick whether that test served as additional evidence that the knife had been swiped by the towel.

But defense attorneys objected, saying Deedrick was about to give an opinion. Leibovitz, who at the defendants' request will decide the case without a jury, agreed.

On cross-examination, Price's attorney, David Schertler, targeted Deedrick's analysis.

Deedrick told Schertler he examined the knife on Dec. 20, 2006. Then Schertler, a former prosecutor, asked Deedrick when Wone was killed. Deedrick, who often consulted his notes, responded, "November 2006."

Schertler, who never revealed the actual August 2006 date of Wone's death during questioning, asked Deedrick if he ever asked authorities when the knife was recovered to help him determine whether too much time had passed for a sound analysis. Schertler asked if skin, hairs and other evidence that had been photographed on the weapon may have fallen off the knife while it was in storage, thereby altering his testing.

"I didn't even think of that," said Deedrick, who has two decades' experience in such studies.

Deedrick also said he made his findings on the knife without looking at crime-scene photos to see how and where it was found.

For the first time since the trial started two weeks ago, Price, Ward and Zaborsky seemed relaxed and were seen smiling and whispering to one another as they sat behind their attorneys.

Former prosecutors who watched the proceedings think the government might have had a difficult day. "None of it was a home run for the government," said former homicide prosecutor June Jeffries. Jeffries said that even if Deedrick's test proves the knife was swiped by the towel, "it doesn't identify who swiped the knife, and you need that kind of evidence."

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