A D.C. Superior Court judge today denied a motion to dismiss conspiracy and obstruction counts in the government's case against three men charged with crimes tied to the murder of Washington attorney Robert Wone.
Defense lawyers representing Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward had argued there was insufficient evidence to support the obstruction and conspiracy counts. The attorneys have not filed a motion to dismiss a third count, evidence tampering.
The defense attorneys said, among other things, there was no “official proceeding” ongoing at the time Ward, Price and Zaborsky allegedly attempted to obstruct justice. The attorneys also said that false statements to police, after the official investigation of Wone’s murder began, are not enough to support an obstruction charge.
Calling the government’s position “constitutionally troubling,” Robert Spagnoletti of Washington’s Schertler & Onorato, who represents Ward, said the government is criminalizing a defendant’s right to refrain from speaking with the police.
Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who inherited the Wone case from Judge Frederick Weisberg this month, called the defense challenge to conspiracy and obstruction counts “meritless.” Leibovitz said certain criteria needed to prove conspiracy and obstruction charges have been met and evidence supports the allegation that there was a “dramatic and massive” effort to alter the crime scene and misdirect the police investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner said in court today that the defendants, during police interviews after Wone’s murder, spent “hours and hours” misdirecting the homicide investigation. “It’s not simply, ‘I didn’t do it and don’t want to talk to you,’” Kirschner said.
Leibovitz ordered the prosecution to disclose to the defense next month the government’s theory of the case—including whether prosecutors plan to argue that any one or all of the defendants participated in the stabbing death of Wone in August 2006. Prosecutors say Wone was tortured and sexually assaulted. Whether the government will be able to make these assertions remains unknown.
The prosecution, the judge said, has no obligation to turn over evidence related to uncharged, non-criminal conduct—evidence that goes to so-called “bad character.” Defense attorney David Schertler said today the defense is concerned by the possibility of what he called “trial by ambush.”
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 12. Trial is scheduled to begin in May. Schertler said today he anticipates a “lengthy and contentious” trial.