Conspiracy trial in Wone killing shifts focus

Joseph Price, and Dylan Ward, right, are among the men accused of conspiracy in the killing of lawyer Robert Wone.
Joseph Price, and Dylan Ward, right, are among the men accused of conspiracy in the killing of lawyer Robert Wone. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Details of the troubled life of one of the siblings of the three defendants accused of tampering with evidence in the 2006 slaying of Robert Wone became the focus of testimony Tuesday as prosecutors hoped to prove the existence of past cover-ups by the men.

Prosecutors called Louis Hinton, the former boyfriend of Michael C. Price, to testify about his former relationship with Price, who is the younger brother of defendant Joseph Price .

Joseph Price, 39, Dylan M. Ward, 40, and Victor Zaborsky, 44, have been charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence in connection with the killing of Wone, 32, who had planned to sleep at the men's house after working late at his job as general counsel for Radio Free Asia. Their D.C. Superior Court trial is in its third week.

The housemates, who have said they are in a three-way committed relationship, told authorities that an intruder entered through an unlocked back door of their house and stabbed Wone three times in the chest as he slept in a guest room. Police said there was no sign of a robbery and no evidence that an intruder had been in the house, at 1509 Swann St. NW. No one has been charged with in the killing.

Prosecutors say the three men are covering for Joseph Price's younger brother, who they believe was involved in Wone's slaying. Michael Price has not been charged, but prosecutors say the elder Price orchestrated the cover-up of his college friend's slaying to protect his brother.

That allegation became the focus of testimony Tuesday. Prosecutors say Joseph Price, a former intellectual property lawyer at the District's Arent Fox law firm, has been covering for his brother for years.

Hinton's attorney said his client planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. But Judge Lynn Leibovitz ruled that Hinton had to testify because he had waived his rights when he agreed to testify before a grand jury during the early phases of the investigation. Before the trial began last month, defense attorneys for the three men waived their right to a jury trial and instead chose to have Leibovitz decide their clients' fate.

Hinton and a homicide detective described a challenging life for Michael Price, one plagued by addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine. He has been in and out of drug rehab and at one time lived in a homeless shelter, according to testimony. At one time, Michael Price and Hinton lived together in a Silver Spring condominium that was owned by Joseph Price. The younger Price and Hinton paid Joseph Price $1,400 a month in rent. But Price also paid for his younger brother's medical care.

On the stand, Hinton appeared somber and frustrated. What he wanted to share with the court, the judge wouldn't allow. Hinton's attorney, Barry Pollack, said Hinton has told authorities that his client and the younger Price were in bed together in their Silver Spring home the night Wone was killed. Leibovitz said that information was not relevant to the case against the housemates.

Prosecutors believe the younger Price was involved in Wone's death in part because none of the three men charged with conspiracy ever mentioned to authorities that the younger Price had a spare key and the code to the house alarm when Wone was killed.

Authorities found out that the younger Price had a key to the Swann Street house when police investigated a burglary there in October 2006, about two months after the slaying. Michael Price and another man were arrested and charged with stealing several items, including two flat-screen TVs, three DVD players and a VCR, while the three men were at work.

The housemates discovered that the items were missing after Hinton told Joseph Price that he and Price's brother had a fight and Price had taken his 1988 Mercury Sable. Hinton said he and Joseph Price discussed reporting the car stolen "to get [Michael Price] off the street," according to Hinton's grand jury testimony.

Hinton said Joseph Price asked Ward to go to the Swann Street house to see whether his younger brother was there. Ward then noticed the items missing.

The men had a good idea who might have been behind the burglary. "We suspected it was Michael," Hinton said.

But the men did not immediately report the robbery to police. Instead, they waited three days and contacted police Nov. 2 -- after Price, Ward and Zaborsky met with their attorneys. Michael Price, who later was found sleeping in Hinton's parked car, was charged with burglary. The case was dismissed after Price completed a drug program.

Prosecutors expect to call their final two witnesses Wednesday.

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