Roommates say they won't testify in Wone wrongful-death lawsuit

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, September 17, 2010

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

Patrick M. Regan, the Wone family attorney, said the men have informed 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 after the hearing.

At the hearing, the trial was again rescheduled, this time 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. Roommates Dylan M. Ward, Joseph R. Price and Victor J. Zaborsky said an unknown intruder entered the townhouse and killed Wone. No one has been charged in the slaying.

In June, after a five-week trial, Price, Zaborsky and Ward were acquitted of 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 hired 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.

It is 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 the 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 whether Hedge plans to leave the bench when she retires or apply for senior status, which would mean she could still preside over the case.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company