Attorneys for the Maryland man charged in the 2015 slayings of three members of a Northwest Washington family and their housekeeper said their client was not involved in the killings and, in an unexpected twist, told a jury that the man’s two brothers orchestrated and carried out the murders.
Jeffrey Stein, with the District’s Public Defender Service, said in court that his client, 36-year-old Daron Wint, was set up by his brothers, who “deceived him, abandoned him and left him to take the fall” in a robbery that turned deadly.
The stunning allegation came in the opening statements Tuesday in the trial for Wint, the only person arrested in the May 2015 killings of businessman Savvas Savopoulos, 46; his wife, Amy Savopoulos, 47; their son, Philip, 10; and the family’s housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa, 57.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Bruckmann put the blame solely on Wint, telling jurors that all evidence pointed to the Lanham man, who once worked for a Savopoulos family business. Prosecutors allege that Wint held the victims hostage inside the Savopoulos home in May 2015, beating, strangling and stabbing them before setting the house ablaze and fleeing with $40,000 in ransom.
“This is what nightmares are made of. A family and their housekeeper, kidnapped in their own home, held overnight for a ransom and then killed by this man, Daron Wint,” Bruckmann said.
Wint’s brother Darrell and half-brother Steffon were named by the defense as alternate suspects. Neither the men nor their family members could be reached Tuesday through multiple phone numbers linked to the family. They have not been charged in the case.
Stein said in court that there is evidence that Darrell and Steffon Wint were in the Savopoulos home, though he did not detail that evidence. He said the two were in close phone contact around the time of the killings and that police have not been able to find one brother’s phone.
Stein also sought to cast some blame on Savvas Savopoulos’s assistant Jordan Wallace, who delivered the cash ransom to the Northwest Washington home at his boss’s request. The defense said Wallace had a role in what they said was a plot by the Wint brothers, but did not offer details.
Wallace, 31, who also is not charged in the case, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In the weeks after the killings, police said they believed that more than one person may have carried out the brutal crimes.
On the first day of the trial, though, Bruckmann chronicled the hours that led up to the kidnappings and killings, along with the numerous pieces of evidence that prosecutors said implicated only Daron Wint.
Authorities allege that Wint held his victims hostage overnight on May 13, 2015, restraining them in upstairs bedrooms. That evening, they say, he forced Amy Savopoulos to order two pizzas that were delivered to the house by Domino’s Pizza.
The break in the case came when Wint’s DNA was found on a discarded piece of pizza crust. The DNA led police to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Bruckmann said that Wint’s DNA also was found on a knife at the scene and that authorities found two hairs identified as Wint’s at the Savopoulos home. He said Wint’s DNA and fingerprints were found on a vest inside a Porsche that was stolen from the home and later set on fire.
“In this case, DNA will speak for the dead,” Bruckmann said.
Bruckmann said the victims were beaten with baseball bats, stabbed and strangled before Wint poured gasoline on them and set them and the house on fire. Authorities also said Philip was stabbed with a samurai sword that Savvas Savopoulos kept as a souvenir.
Bruckmann said Wint had worked for Savopoulos’s family business, American Iron Works, from 2003 to 2005, when he was let go.
For the first time, prosecutors also outlined a timeline of events before, during and after the kidnappings, giving a glimpse of possible testimony in the coming weeks to support their theories.
On May 13, 2015, they said, Savvas Savopoulos left the house and went to Chantilly, Va., where he was working on opening a new business venture, a karate studio. Amy Savopoulos stayed at home to care for Philip, who was home from school because of an illness. The couple’s two older daughters were away at boarding school. Figueroa arrived at the house that morning for work.
At around 3:25 p.m., a neighbor saw Amy Savopoulos taking a walk. It was the last time anyone outside the home would see any of the victims alive.
Prosectors said they believe that Wint entered the house around this time. Bruckmann told jurors that Wint taped the ankles and wrists of Amy Savopoulos, Philip and Figueroa.
Bruckmann said Wint then forced Amy Savopoulos to telephone her husband and tell him to return home. Savvas Savopoulos arrived at the house at around 7 p.m. to find his wife and housekeeper bound in one bedroom and his son restrained in another bedroom, the prosecutor said.
During this time, Bruckmann said, Wint ordered Savvas Savopoulos to telephone a second housekeeper to tell her not to come to work the next day. He calmly left a voicemail, which prosecutors plan to play during the trial. Amy Savopoulos also sent a text message, telling the housekeeper not to report.
Wint then forced Amy Savopoulos to order the pizza, the prosecutor said. She prepaid, including a tip, and instructed the driver to leave the pizzas outside the front door.
On the morning of May 14, Figueroa’s husband was concerned that his wife had not made it home from work. He went to the Savopoulos house to look for his wife when Savvas Savopoulos called him to say that they were at a hospital for a family emergency and Figueroa was helping out.
Bruckmann said Savvas Savopoulos then contacted an employee of his company as well as Wallace, instructing them to withdraw $40,000 in cash and put the money inside one of the cars in his garage. On the morning of May 14, Wallace dropped off the cash.
Anticipating that the defense would implicate Wallace, Bruckmann told jurors that Wallace was not involved in the killings.
“Jordan Wallace loved working for the Savopouloses. He adored Philip. He was upset, but he has nothing to hide and fully cooperated with detectives,” Bruckmann said.
Bruckmann said Wint assaulted the victims and fled after the cash was delivered.
The defense alleged that Wint was lured by his brothers to the house. They said he ate the pizza downstairs, not knowing about the victims upstairs.
Stein also said witnesses will testify that Darrell Wint gave them cash that the defense believes was part of the ransom.
Daron Wint is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and other counts.
Magda Jean-Louis and Paul Duggan contributed to this report.