News & Politics

Good Fences, Bad Neighbors

The Robert Wone murder trial is stuck on details, short on evidence.

There were some brief moments of mirth Thursday in the mirthless trial about the murder of Robert Wone. One came courtesy of a short video.

“I would like to introduce defense exhibit 901,” said Tom Connolly, who is defending Victor Zaborsky, one of three men charged with covering up Wone’s murder. “It’s a video of us scaling the fence.”

Rarely, if ever, has a lawyer in DC Superior Court shown a video of his prowess as a climber. But rarely has there been a case as confounding as this one, where a murder has gone to court without murder charges, little evidence, and the very real possibility that there will be no justice for the family and friends of Robert Wone.

We had seen hours of video of the three defendants giving interviews to cops the night of the murder—August 2, 2006, and the early hours of the next day. Detectives had interviewed Zaborsky and the two men he lived with, Joe Price and Dylan Ward. Connolly said his video showed the fence behind 1509 Swann Street, Northwest, the house where Wone was stabbed three times.

The seven-foot fence is material to the “intruder” story. Robert Wone, an Asian-American attorney, arrived at the defendants’ home at 10:30 pm. All three were at home. By midnight Wone was dead from stab wounds to the heart. The three defendants told detectives on the night in question that an “intruder” had killed Wone.

Cops and prosecutors don’t believe them.

Neither Wone’s body, the bed, nor the room had signs of much blood or struggle. The three defendants have stuck by their story that an intruder scaled the fence, entered the home through the open back door, walked into the house and up to the second-floor room where Wone was sleeping, and stabbed him; they say the intruder then retraced his steps. This person would have had to have scaled the fence between the small garden patio and the alley.

On Thursday afternoon, Brian Waid was on the witness stand talking about the fence. Now a cop in Lee County, Florida, he was the detective who led the Wone murder investigation in 2006. He examined the Swann house and grounds for 16 hours over two days; he testified that the fence and the patio area showed no sign of being disturbed the night of the murder. And the fence was very high.

Connolly’s assistants cued the video.

“Objection,” said prosecutor Patrick Martin.

Judge Lynn Liebovitz overruled him.

“Did you climb it with a pork loin?” she asked Connolly.

The courtroom audience of reporters, lawyers, and family members cracked up.

“If you want to show the video, show the video,” she said. “Just don’t ask the witness to say how you looked.”

Because Waid is not an expert in climbing fences.

The room went dark; the video ran for about 30 seconds. Connolly is a large man—about six-foot-two and 260 pounds. He and two others climbed over the fence. The moment passed, and he continued to cross-examine former detective Waid.

The fact that climbing a fence could be so crucial is a testament to how each piece of information is being carved up and examined in this case. It’s also a sign that the government’s case is still weak. Indeed, at the end of week two in a trial that could last more than a month, there were few incriminating revelations, and the chances for conviction seem slim.

On Tuesday, chief homicide prosecutor Glenn Kirschner dropped this on the court: Michael Price, Joe Price’s younger brother, might have committed the murder. Aficionados of the Wone case had been speculating about the kid brother for months. He had access to the house, had had run-ins with the law, was down and out at the time. But Kirschner was missing something.

“Do you have any evidence whatsoever that would put him at the crime scene that night?” asked Judge Leibovitz. She is running the trial and deciding on the case without a jury.

“No,” Kirschner replied.

His response applies to the government’s case in general: no evidence, no confessions, no witnesses.

One shred of evidence that might have shaken the intruder theory came Wednesday. Tara Ragone, a friend of both Joe Price and Robert Wone from college days, testified that Price told her he had removed the knife from Wone’s chest.

Did he pull it out? Not clear. Were his fingerprints on the handle? Not clear. Did he wipe some blood? Not clear.

After week two of the trial, little more is clear in this case than we knew when Robert Wone perished in 2006.

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