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Robert Wone: Life, Death, and Love
Comments () | Published April 20, 2010

Robert’s work for the Latin youth group was one of his many volunteer projects. After his clerkship with Judge Jackson, he had weighed offers from Washington law firms. He had been a summer associate at Akin Gump and could have worked there. He chose Covington & Burling in part because he knew it had a vibrant pro bono practice. While keeping up with paying real-estate clients, Robert was able to donate time and expertise to the Organization of Chinese Americans and the Academy of Construction & Design at Cardozo Senior High School. He took a leadership position with DC’s Asian Pacific American Bar Association and was in line to be its president.

The Latin youth group works with an estimated 4,000 kids a year in DC and Maryland. Before Robert helped solve the housing problems, he wrote the organization’s personnel manual and worked pro bono for the group.

“Robert became my go-to guy,” says Fernandez. “No matter what it was, he had time to help—law, real estate, personnel. Not a week went by that I didn’t call him. He was like my Batphone. No matter what the issue, he would help me think it through.”

By 2005, the converted buildings housed children who needed a roof over their heads.

In the early summer of 2006, Robert saw an ad for a job as general counsel at Radio Free Asia, a nonprofit that broadcasts news and information to Asia. He was doing well at Covington but yearned for a new challenge. He applied, went through the interviews, and was hired.

“We struggled with the decision,” says Kathy. “We knew he was going to take a huge pay cut.”

Robert made sure his wife was on board. “I don’t need to drive a Lexus,” she told him. “I’m happy with our Honda. I want you to be happy. Go for it.”

Robert immersed himself in the new work. He started boning up on international communications law. He got to know the staff.

“He really loved it,” says Kathy.

After work on Wednesday, August 2, he met with John Lindberg, general counsel at Radio Free Europe. They had a quick sandwich for dinner and then attended a legal seminar. At about 9:30, Robert headed back to the office to get acquainted with the night staff. On the way, he phoned Kathy.

About an hour later, he made his way to 1509 Swann Street to spend the night.

He arrived at about 10:30. Price and his housemates, Zaborsky and Ward, were at home.

What happened during the next 79 minutes remains unknown to any but those in the house.

Price and Ward told police they welcomed Robert into the kitchen and sat around the table sipping water. Zaborsky told police he was in his bedroom watching Project Runway. Price and Ward then led Wone to a guest room on the second floor. A convertible couch had been pulled out for him. Ward told police he went to his room on the same floor and took a sleeping pill; as he dozed off, he heard Robert taking a shower. Price and Zaborsky told police they retired to their bedroom on the third floor.

That accounts for events until about 11 pm. In the following 45 minutes, Price said, he heard the security system’s chimes at the back door. Zaborsky said he heard one low scream, then another. They said they discovered Wone mortally wounded on the guest-room bed.

By their combined accounts, someone had stabbed Robert Wone and left the house. They did not explain who cleaned the room of blood, washed the body, discarded the murder weapon, disposed of the bloody towels or sheets, and changed the bedding—in 45 minutes.

Zaborsky phoned 911 at 11:49. “We need an ambulance,” he said. He was gasping.

“What’s wrong, ma’am?” the operator asked, mistaking Zaborsky’s voice for that of a woman.

“We had someone . . . in our house, evidently—and they stabbed somebody.”

Two paramedics arrived five minutes and 40 seconds later. Jeffrey Baker, an Emergency Medical Services worker for more than ten years, had seen dozens of crime scenes with people screaming and blood everywhere. Here there was quiet, three men looking freshly showered, and a victim with three stab wounds but little blood.

The scene “made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he said.

The medics gave Wone an EKG. It showed a flat line. They rushed him to the hospital.

When DC police officer Diane Durham arrived on the scene, Price—still dressed only in white briefs—did all the talking; he also gave her a different story than the one he would later tell detectives.

“He said they heard someone scream and ran downstairs to see,” Durham said. “Underwear guy said the victim was at the patio door bleeding, they opened the door, took him upstairs and laid him on the bed.”

She advised “underwear guy” to put on some clothes.

The second paramedic, Tracye Weaver, a 15-year EMS veteran, said that things in the house were “very wrong.”

Kathy Wone got home from the hospital around 4 am. Robert’s mother and aunt spent the rest of the night with her. At 7 that morning, she called Jason Torchinsky, Robert’s former roommate and longtime friend. Jason had called Robert Wednesday afternoon to tell him about his new Honda.

“Talk to you tomorrow,” Wone had said.

Torchinsky was getting ready for work. The caller ID read “Robert Wone.” He picked up the phone and greeted his friend.

“Jason, this is Kathy,” she said. “Robert was stabbed to death last night. He’s dead, Jason. Robert is dead.”

Torchinsky gasped and grew faint. “What are you talking about?” he said.

Kathy told him again. He asked if she wanted him to come to Oakton. “Not yet,” she said. Maybe in the afternoon. She asked him to call the crew. She made the same request to Michelle Kang, who called Tara Ragone at her law office in New Jersey.

“Go back and tell the doctors they are wrong!” Ragone screamed into the phone. “They have made a mistake. Robert can’t be dead.”

By Thursday afternoon, family and friends surrounded Kathy Wone in the Oakton townhouse. There was a funeral to plan.

On Friday afternoon, Joe Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward went to the Wone home. Kathy suggested they talk in the basement. “Want me to be with you?” Torchinsky asked. She declined.

Kathy spent more than a half hour alone with the three men. She was quivering—afraid to find out the details.

“What happened?” she asked.

They told her that they had had a glass of water with Robert and gone to sleep, that they had heard grunts, that an intruder had come into their house.

They gave her no details of how her husband might have died.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 04/20/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles