Kicking off a trial rooted in one of this city's most vexing murders, a prosecutor today highlighted the evidence in the government’s conspiracy case against three men charged with covering up the killing of Washington attorney Robert Wone, whose August 2006 fatal stabbing remains unsolved.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner, speaking for more than an hour today in D.C. Superior Court, said the three defendants, including former Arent Fox partner Joseph Price, "misdirected and misguided" the Metropolitan Police Department investigation of Wone’s murder, and that in the short term "they seem to have gotten away with it."
Price, his partner Victor Zaborsky, and their roommate Dylan Ward are charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and evidence tampering. Kirschner’s opening statement was delivered in a crowded courtroom, where Wone’s widow sits surrounded by friends and family. The defendants opted last week for a bench trial.
Kirschner described what he called a powerful bond between Price, Zaborsky and Ward. The men considered themselves a family, said Kirschner, who heads the homicide section of the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Columbia. Sadly, Robert Wone was not a member of their family, he said.
Kirschner spoke mostly with a soft voice, gesturing often with his hands and wandering from the podium that is set up facing Judge Lynn Leibovitz. The prosecutor displayed a series of photographs depicting the interior of the house where Wone's body was discovered in a bedroom. Kirschner also showed an autopsy photo and spoke about inexplicable puncture marks on Wone's neck and feet.
The prosecutor called Price a leader who ensured the three lovers would present a uniform, coherent story to detectives. Price, the prosecutor said, did most of the talking with the police at the crime scene. Price, Zaborsky, and Ward maintain an intruder killed Wone, a former Covington & Burling associate who had become general counsel at Radio Free Asia. Price and Wone were friends from college.
Today in court, Kirschner attacked the intruder theory, noting that the alleged burglar passed up valuables - among them, a flat-screen TV and a wallet - in the house in Northwest Washington. None of the defendants said they heard a person walking up hardwood stairs to the room where Wone was discovered, and there was no sign of forced entry in the house. “To say the random intruder dog don’t hunt is an understatement,” Kirschner said.
The prosecutor said there is no evidence that a towel was used to apply pressure to the wounds, a statement that Zaborsky made during his phone call to 911 reporting the stabbing. Kirschner said Zaborsky was, essentially, reading from a "script" during the 911 call.
Kirschner spoke at length about the three stab wounds on Wone’s chest, noting that the wounds were each nearly identical in size and depth. Investigators found no defensive wounds on Wone’s body, giving rise to the prosecution theory that Wone was restrained before the stabbing. This was not a quick, careless, spontaneous stabbing that killed Wone, Kirschner said.
The knife found on a nightstand near Wone was not the knife used to kill him, Kirschner insisted today. The prosecutor called the knife a plant, saying that it was intentionally wiped with Wone’s blood to throw off the police.
Leibovitz this morning denied a defense motion to suppress the statements of Price and Ward, finding that the two men were never in custody and therefore the police had no requirement to read the two men, considered witnesses early in the investigation, their rights.
The afternoon session is set to begin about 2:15 p.m. with the defense opening statement. Prosecutors plan to call Wone's widow as the government's first witness. Stay tuned to The BLT for updates throughout the trial.