Wone Defendants Not Guilty, Mystery Continues

Shaky prosecution leaves judge unable to convict three charged in conspiracy

By: Marisa M. Kashino

Nearly four years after the stabbing death of 32-year-old attorney Robert Wone in a Dupont Circle rowhouse, we still don’t know the identity of his killer or what—if anything—the three housemates who hosted Wone the night of his death might be hiding. And DC Superior Court judge Lynn Leibovitz’s across-the-board not-guilty verdicts this morning in the conspiracy trial stemming from Wone’s murder mean it’s unlikely we’ll ever get those answers.

In a huge blow to the government’s case against defendants Joseph Price, Dylan Ward, and Victor Zaborsky, Leibovitz announced that Price was not guilty of obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice, and tampering with evidence at the crime scene. She found Ward and Zaborsky not guilty of both obstruction and conspiracy. She had earlier dropped the tampering charges against them.

The defendants sat emotionless as Leibovitz delivered the news. In the seat directly behind me, a woman who was a close friend of Robert Wone’s began to sob. Leibovitz had barely finished when Robert’s widow, Kathy Wone—who sat three rows from the front of the courtroom and remained poker-faced for most of the proceedings—bolted out the double doors. She appeared to be in tears as she continued to run all the way down the escalator from the third-floor courtroom and out of sight.

Leibovitz took more than an hour to announce the verdicts. First, she went through the case piece by piece, outlining the claims made by each side and what she had determined the facts on each claim to be. After what was clearly a painstaking decision process, she was still hung up on a key point: The possibility remained that one of the three defendants was “the odd man out of the scheme.” In other words, two of the three defendants may have conspired to lie to investigators about Wone’s murder, but a third may be ignorant of the truth and guilty only of trusting the story told to him by the other two.

Leibovitz summed up by quoting the English jurist William Blackstone: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent person suffer.” She acknowledged that her conclusion “was probably cold comfort to those who loved Robert Wone,” adding, “I am extremely sorry for that.”

Perhaps most deflating for those expecting findings of guilt today was that Leibovitz said she believed the defendants do in fact know who killed Wone. She also said she didn’t believe the housemates’ assertion that an intruder had entered their home and committed the murder. But the prosecution, led by assistant US Attorney Glenn Kirschner, failed to convince her “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard under the law.

All three defendants hired some of the best criminal defenders in the city. Price retained Bernard Grimm of Cozen O’Connor; Ward hired David Shertler of Schertler & Onorato; and Zaborsky turned to Thomas Connolly of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. But in the end, it appears it was less the talents of the defense lawyers and more the shortcomings of the prosecution’s case that got the three men off.

Robert Wone was murdered the night of August 2, 2006, at 1509 Swann Street, Northwest. The three defendants, who live together in a long-term relationship, were home at the time of his killing. There was no sign of forced entry, and nothing valuable was taken from the home. Prosecutors have never been able to file murder charges in the case.

And it seems unlikely they ever will.

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