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Knife looms large in Robert Wone trial

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2010

As the conspiracy trial in the Robert Wone killing enters its second week, federal prosecutors plan to prod police detectives and crime scene technicians about what they saw and heard Aug. 2, 2006, the night the Washington lawyer was fatally stabbed in the Dupont Circle home of the three men on trial.

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Last week, defense attorneys challenged the testimony of prosecution witnesses, including a responding paramedic who said he was puzzled by the lack of blood on Wone's body, which appeared as if the abdomen had been wiped clean.

But it was in the questioning of a D.C. deputy medical examiner that defense attorneys may have gotten their biggest break in the trial. Prosecutors had said that medical examination reports would show that the size of the knife found next to Wone's body made it impossible for it to be the knife used in the killing and argued that the knife was planted at the scene by the three defendants, Dylan M. Ward, Joseph R. Price and Victor J. Zaborsky, or someone the men knew.

The knife actually used to inflict three stab wounds to Wone's chest, prosecutors argued, was part of a cutlery set belonging to Ward. That knife remains missing.

But Lois Goslinoski, a deputy D.C. medical examiner who performed Wone's autopsy, said that although she was shown two knives, including the one that was found at the scene, she could not definitively say which might have been the weapon.

"I cannot identify which knife caused these wounds -- either of them could have made the wounds," she said.

Whether the knife found next to the body was the weapon used in the killing is critical to the government's case.

Prosecutors have charged Price, 39, Ward, 40, and Zaborsky, 44, with tampering with evidence, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. They face a maximum of 38 years in prison if found guilty on all counts. The men said an unknown intruder broke into the house and stabbed Wone to death as he slept in a guest room and the three housemates slept in their bedrooms. Police found no trace of a break-in, and no valuables were stolen. Wone's wallet and watch were found next to his body.

No one has been charged with killing Wone. But the first week of the trial sounded more like a complex murder case than a conspiracy trial. One day included extensive testimony about severed heart arteries, internal bleeding and blood loss.

On the day he was killed, Wone worked late at Radio Free Asia, where he was general counsel. He had arranged to spend the night at Price's home rather than make the Metro trip back to Oakton, where he lived with his wife. Price and Wone were friends from their days at the College of William and Mary. Wone arrived at the house, at 1509 Swann St. NW, sometime after 10:30 p.m. Based on a scream heard by neighbors, prosecutors think Wone was stabbed to death between 11 and 11:49 p.m., when Zaborsky called 911.

Also, D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who at the defendants' request will decide the case without a jury, seems to be focused on how long Wone remained conscious and lived with the stab wounds. Prosecutors think the men delayed calling for help in order to orchestrate an alibi, clean the crime scene and dispose of the weapon.

Goslinoski said it would have taken 10 or so minutes before Wone would have become unconscious, based on the wounds. She said the stab wounds alone would not have caused instant death, nor would they have rendered Wone unable to move or try to fight off his assailant. The lack of signs of self-defense is one of the main reasons that prosecutors think Wone, who was about 5-foot-3 and pounds, was physically restrained.

Goslinoski also was unable to explain the seven needle marks found on Wone's body. Defense attorneys said the marks were made by either paramedics or hospital workers trying to revive Wone. Prosecutors think Wone may have been drugged by his attacker or attackers, but they agreed in earlier hearings not to pursue the drugging theory in the trial.

This week, prosecutors plan to play portions of videotaped statements the men made to detectives, something defense attorneys fought to suppress.

In forming their case, prosecutors have said that Price, a former intellectual-property lawyer with the Washington law firm Arent Fox, is the lead conspirator. Officer Gregory Alemian said that when he began interviewing the men in the house after Wone's lifeless body was discovered, Ward started to explain what had happened, but Price shot Ward a look "like a kid who is about to get in trouble," and Ward got quiet and Price did the remainder of the talking.

Price told Alemian the men heard a chime indicating that the back door was being opened and said that they had no idea who broke into their home but added that a "black guy" lived in a van in the alley behind the house.

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