Defense lawyers for the three men charged with crimes stemming from the murder of Washington attorney Robert Wone fired back at prosecutors this afternoon, saying that the government case is built on nothing more than speculation and innuendo.
Bernard Grimm of Cozen O'Connor called the government's case "fantastic" and said there is “unequivocally, absolutely” no evidence to support the charge that his client, former Arent Fox partner Joseph Price, tried to cover up the murder of Wone at Price’s Washington house. Price and housemates Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward are all charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and evidence tampering.
Grimm said that Wone was asleep when he was killed the night of Aug. 2, 2006, and that the bloody knife found on the nightstand in the room was the one used to stab him. Prosecutors earlier today, during the government's opening statement, said the knife in the room was planted and the actual knife used in the unsolved homicide has never been recovered.
Grimm asked why a resident of the house would get rid of the murder weapon and then retrieve another knife from the house, wipe the victim's blood on it and leave it at the crime scene for the police to find. He compared the government’s theory to a scenario in which a person shoots someone, throws away the gun and then goes to buy another firearm to drop at the crime scene.
Grimm, David Schertler of Schertler & Onorato and Thomas Connolly of Wiltshire & Grannis each said there was no motive for their clients to kill Wone, who was known to all three defendants. Wone, a former Covington & Burling associate, and Price were friends from their days at the College of William and Mary.
And all three lawyers said their clients were honest with the Metropolitan Police Department detectives who spent hours interrogating the men. “What they told the police, your Honor,” is what happened,” said Grimm, addressing Judge Lynn Leibovitz of D.C. Superior Court.
Grimm spent part of his opening statement outlining what defense experts are expected to say: that Wone was killed within seconds by three stabs to his chest. Prosecution experts are expected to argue that Wone would have likely lived for at least several minutes after the knife was plunged into his chest.
In his opening statement, Schertler, who represents Ward, used the words “speculation” and “innuendo” many times. He said the police, lacking a concrete explanation of what happened the night Wone was killed, unfairly and improperly limited the scope of the murder investigation to Price, Zaborsky and Ward. “This case has been based on faulty assumptions since Day 1,” Schertler said.
He said the police mistakenly believe a knife missing from a cutlery set in Ward’s bedroom is the murder weapon. The knife set changed hands three times before arriving at the house where Wone died, Schertler said.
Connolly, who represents Zaborsky, described the government’s case as “theory chasing evidence.” In his opening statement, he called Zaborsky’s 911 call the night of the murder one of the strongest pieces of evidence that Zaborsky is telling the truth that he doesn’t know who murdered Wone.
The government’s first witness, widow Kathy Wone, took the witness stand this afternoon. She spoke about her husband’s friendship with Price and how things were going well in the Wone household at the time of her husband’s murder. He had just taken a job as general counsel for Radio Free Asia.
There were no personal problems and no financial troubles, Kathy Wone testified. There had been no threats on Robert Wone’s life. Kathy Wone is expected to continue her testimony Tuesday morning.
Judge Leibovitz appeared less than pleased today about the prospect of a five- or six-week trial. At the end of today’s session, she urged the lawyers to keep the trial moving, saying she doesn’t think it should a month for both sides to present their cases.