Robert Wone Murder Trial Chat
Read a transcript of national editor Harry Jaffe's discussion with Craig Brownstein, Mike Kremin, Doug Johnson—the bloggers behind the Who Murdered Robert Wone? Web site—about the murder case.
Who murdered Robert Wone? That question has baffled investigators and intrigued Washingtonians since the day Robert Wone was found stabbed to death nearly four years ago in a row house east of DC’s Dupont Circle. Were residents Joseph Price, Dylan Ward, and Victor Zaborsky involved in the murder? Do they know who killed their friend? Was he the victim of their sexual games?
Washingtonians have been kept informed of the tragedy, its aftermath, and the ongoing court case against the three men through the efforts of Craig Brownstein, Mike Kremin, Doug Johnson, and David Greer—the bloggers behind the Who Murdered Robert Wone? Web site.
On Friday, June 25, at 10 AM, Browstein, Kremin, and Johnson will join Washingtonian national editor Harry Jaffe for a discussion about the case. They’ll answer questions about the mysterious murder, the court case, and share their thoughts on how judge Lynn Liebovitz might rule regarding the obstruction-of-justice and conspiracy charges. Submit your questions in advance below, and check back tomorrow at 10 for the live discussion.Harry Jaffe: By way of introduction, attorney Robert Wone was stabbed to death in a mysterious murder on August 2, 2006. In October, 2008, the government issued a detailed description of its narrative laying the foundation for charges against three men who were present in the house where Wone was killed. Four neighbors — Craig Brownstein, Michael Kremin, Dough Johnson and David Greer soon started the web site — Who Murdered Robert Wone? Since then they have provided the best source of news, documents and dialogue on the still unsolved murder and its aftermath.
Now — a few questions:
Are you relieved that the five-week trial against the three housemates for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence is over?
Doug: Relieved…but it's still not over. There's the verdict next Tuesday, likely appeals, and the civil case. Personally, however, I am happy to see an end to this first trial phase.
Michael: In some respects, I see this as a start to the next phases that Doug refers to.
Craig: I thought that the trial was going to be a walk in the park after 18 months of obessive posting. I had no idea how taxing and consuming trial coverage was going to be. Relieved? I don't know. I sense a void that will be challenging to fill.
Harry Jaffe: Let's name the defendants: Joseph Price, Victory Zaborsky and Dylan Ward. Did you get any revelations from the trial thus far?
Doug: Several, at least in terms of their household. We hadn't known before the the dynamic that Glenn Kirschner spoke of yesterday: that Victor was devoted to Joe, that Joe was devoted to Dylan, and that Dylan's loyalties were "unknown."
Harry Jaffe: But what facts came out that advanced your understanding of the actual crime?
Michael: Do you mean the murder or the charges against the defendants?
Craig: For me, Tara Ragone's and Scott Hixson's testimony that had Joe Price telling them both that he pulled the knife from Robert's chest.
Doug: I second what Craig said. He types faster.
Harry Jaffe: Either and both. Let's start with charges of colluding to throw off the police investigation: Anything in the trial that incriminated or absolved the three?
Doug: There was a fair amount of talk about showers – whether Robert took a shower, as Dylan says he heard. The crime scene evidence seems to strongly suggest Robert didn't shower, leading to concerns about Ward's truthfulness in that answer.
Craig: The point being is that differed considerably from what Price tolddetectives durng his inteview on he night of the crime. Kirschner hit them hard on that. Price got into his "comfort zone" with friends and was more forthcoming that he was with investigators
Michael: The defendants alleged a complete lack of investigation by the MPD, but the intruder theory became more incredible when it was revealed that dust and cob webs in the back yard fence area were completely undisturbed.
Harry Jaffe: On the matter of the knife. Judge Lynn Liebowitz asked yesterday if it would have been tampering if a medic had taken the knife out. So why is that incriminating for Joe to have removed it?
Doug: Joe's first answers were that the knife was lying on Robert. Hours later he changed that to "pulled the knife from his friend." Doesn't seem like a detail one would confuse.
Michael: Price's interviews with the police differed from what he told his friends, making one wonder what was true.
Craig: It depends if Judge Leibo sees whatever Price did with the knife as a willful attempt to alter the crime scene. I think what may be incriminating is the two different stories Price is alleged to have told.
Doug: Exactly, Craig. Moving the knife to help your friend is one thing; manipulating it to corrupt an investigation is another.
Harry Jaffe: So if Joe changed his story, and if the Judge believes that Joe and Victor squared their stories after they met in the Mercedes during the questioning by cops the night of the murder, is that enough to build the "facts" of a conspiracy?
Michael: It speaks to some level of "getting the story straight", which leads on to believe that a conspiracy was taking place.
Doug: Perhaps, Harry; although Judge Leibovitz was very interested in when the conspiracy could have begun, repeatedly asking counsel about that. As a hypothetical, she raised the possibility of a conspiracy starting much sooner, in the house that evening. As a hypothetical…
Craig: The Mercedes meeting may speak to both the conspiracy chrages AND obstruction, I'm guesing. Kirschner said it was at that point, Price's story changed. Connolly drove home hard that Zaborsky was consistent in his telling to MPD, both before and after the parking lot meet.
Harry Jaffe: We have a question from a reader who took me to task for my web posting early in the trial that the three were innocent, innocent, innocent. Was I not being presumptuous? Guilty, guilty, guilty. I meant to be provocative. And I will admit to using the wrong term. I should have said not guilty. But I am sticking to my theory that there will be no guilty results. Judge Liebovitz asked for facts yesterday. She kept using the term "beyond a reasonable doubt." So, my friends, what are three facts upon which she can base a guilty verdict on obstruction?
Doug: Three possible facts – if she finds for them – could be: 1: the 9-1-1 call where Victor refers to "we think" early on, 2: possible gap in time between "the scream" and the 9-1-1 call, and 3: inconsistencies about the shower story.
Michael: As a non-lawyer, I would see obstruction of justice tied to the defendants adamantly adhering to the intruder theory, which if one accepts the results of the MPD investigation as factual, was an absurd hypothesis.
Craig: In no particular order: the delay in calling 911; the lack of blood found at the scene; the dscrepancies and inconsistencies inthe defendants' stories, especially for Zaborsky's 911 call think – it didn't quite match up with the other statements. And there's the idea that the judge never seemed to have bought the intruder theory in the first place. If she sees that as as implausible could she be halfway to a guilty verdict?
Michael: The dry, folded towels in the room where Robert was found, yet the defendant, Dylan Ward stating that Robert had showered. is another.
Harry Jaffe: I fail to see the facts of a conspiracy. The Judge cannot assume there was collusion just because Joe gave a hard glance to Dylan and Victor when the cops first came. I continue to believe she needs proof that they sat down and hatched a plot to throw off the cops. How can she arrive at such a conclusion?
Doug: Good question…one Judge Leibovitz asked repeatedly. Kibbutzing on the couch? she wondered. In the moments after something bad had happened? Beyond a reasonable doubt is a rather high hurdle. On the other hand, conspiracies by their very nature are hidden, and so finding cold hard proof – without having an insider – is a tricky business.
Harry Jaffe: Given the material it had (notice I didn't use the word facts) do you think the government proved its cases?
Michael: In reviewing the interview transcripts, the language used by the defendants in describing that night was uncannily similar,, the words they chose, the activities that they focused on were eerily similar. Three people seldom describe an event in the same way and words.
Craig: If Judge Leibo felt their was obstruction by one, how can she not stitch together a conspiracy between two or more? To me, it seems like a natural progression. Kirschner kept hitting on the fact that this was a "closed conspiracy," with no insiders, ergo – no smoking gun, just several pieces of circumstantial evidence that showed they had both the time and motive to conspire and hide the identity of the real killer.
Michael: The lawyers who comment on the web site have said conspiracies are extremely difficult to prove without hard evidence, e.g., a recording of the alleged conspirators, or an email, or letter.
Doug: To Harry's question of whether the government proved its cases – given the limited material it had to work with – I'll be honest and say I'm not sure. But as we constantly remind readers, none of us are lawyers. I have no idea how this Judge will rule.
Harry Jaffe: Let's move to the drama in the courtroom. You sat close to members of the Ward, Zaborsky and Wone families. Who was the most sympathetic family member And unsympathetic?
Michael: Over the course of the pretrial hearings and the trial, Victor's parents were always in attendance, a demonstration of their continuous support for many months.
Doug: Kathy Wone, and the entire Wone family, maintained a steady and composed vigil, and that can't have been easy. And I agree with Michael, Victor's family have stood by their son with quiet resolve.
Craig: Kathy, Bill, Aimee and Andrew Wone. But you could see the pain on the faces of all the family members; Zaborsky's parents were there everyday. This was obviously painful to the Wards too, especially since Dylan's mother had to take the stand.
Michael: It was never evident that Joe's parents attended any of the proceedings. His brother, Michael attended a few of the pretrial hearings, but then stopped, most likely after he became a topic of discussion as a potential murderer.
Harry Jaffe: What about the legal cast of characters? Of the three defense attorneys — Schertler, Connolly and Grimm — who defended best? Were you as amused as I with the interplay between Judge L and the lawyers?
Doug: The four principal defense attorneys each had unique style. Grimm is obviously a character at Moultrie, and highly regarded, although I'm not sure his style worked so much in this case. An
d what was with the friction between Leibovitz and Spagnoletti?
Craig: I was greatly impressed by all of them. I'd hire Tom Connolly in a New York minute.
Doug: Craig, let's hope you never need to…
Michael: Schertler was always articulate and well prepared. He was good on his feet. Connolly seemed rather low-key. And as Doug says, perhaps this scenario wasn't the best for Grimm. I'd hire Schertler…and let us hope I never need to.
Craig: Yeah – Leibo and the Spag… What was up with that? The room was full of very capable attorneys but to me, the Spag may have come off as the smartest of the bunch.
Harry Jaffe: From each of you: what was the most priceless moment during the five-week trial? Could be legal, could be personal.
Doug: For me: I injured myself and was hobbling on crutches. While trying to bundle myself into a cab, a hand pulled the door open to help. I turned around; it was Bernie Grimm. "This is what I get for leaping fences," I said. He laughed – and the entire team was right behind him.
Craig: Pat Martin may have been Spag's intellectual and whipping boy counterpart for the government team.
Michael: Henry Lee stating that a martial arts expert (ninja perhaps) could have entered the Swann St home and incapacitated Robert using pressure points. His credibility went out the window.
Doug: And Harry: Craig's got a priceless story of a surprise courtroom guest…if he wants to tell it…
Craig: Henry Lee seems to have met everyone's expectations, except perhaps for the guys who were payng his freight. I wasn't in the courtroom for his testimony, but it sounded like he stunk the place up.
Harry Jaffe: Yesterday during the closing arguments Kathy Wone was flanked in the audience by her two attorneys for Covington & Burling, Benjamin Razi and Dan Suleiman. After this criminal proceeding — and any appeals — there's the prospect of Wone's $20 million wrongful death suit. What might that bring to the story?
Michael: A lot more information will be admissible in the civil case. We may learn more about the defendants, their relationship(s), their interactions with Kathy after the murder, and perhaps new witnesses that divulge details that were not admissible in the criminal trial.
Doug: In short: a lot of what didn't make it into this trial…questions and details of the scene that were ruled inflammatory or irrelevant by the Judge.
Craig: The clocks starts ticking after Leibo's verdict and in 45 days the long tabled civil proceedings may start. The burdens and thresholds for conviction will be much lower. The depo process should be illuminating too, but I'll admit, I need to be schooled when it comes to civil cases like this. One has to wonder what's left in the defendants' piggy banks after the nearly $3M criminal defense… Can they mount as vigorous a case?
Harry Jaffe: Can we talk about the only question that truly matters: Who Murdered Robert Wone? Kirschner said yesterday that "a family member" killed Robert. That was a whopper. Are you any closer to telling us who murdered Robert?
Doug: Harry, you caught that, eh? I felt a slight shudder go through the room. Personally, no. After 18 months, I do not feel I have a significantly clearer idea of what happened than when we began.
Michael: I feel the same way, and know it may remain a complete mystery.
Harry Jaffe: I am going to paraphrase a question from a reader: In the four days before the Judge said she would render her decision on Tuesday, any chance one of the three will "turn state's evidence" and come clean?
Doug: There's a chance, but might there not be a slightly better chance after the verdicts, depending on what they are? The prospect of significant time in jail can loosen tongues. That's assuming, of course, that the housemate actually have anything to offer. It's also a possibility that one or all of them genuinely don't know what happened.
Craig: I think to come clean would mean delivering a murderer to Glenn Kirschner. I doubt he'd accept, or even consider returning a phone call, for anything less.
Michael: I think that is unlikely. the defendants have stuck together this far. And one has to wonder what benefit at this late date it would be to the defendant. I feel that information leading to murder charges would be the only thing that would benefit a defendant turning state's evidence.
Harry Jaffe: A reader wants to know if you have had any interactions or conversations with any of the three defendants?
Michael: I was on the receiving end of some glares and one negative remark in a loud stage whisper, but no interaction other than that.
Craig: Just our share of incoming glares and stares maybe… We occasionally overheard not-so-subtle remarks coming from them as they passed by. Whatever; it's business, not personal. Yet, no direct conversations at all. If they had anything to say, they knew where to find us.
Michael: Victor was always smiling and often held the door for many media professionals, exhibiting gentlemanly behavior.
Doug: That's true, Michael, even for us…
Harry Jaffe: At this point in the Wone saga, do you believe that Kathy Wone, Robert's parents, and his many friends will ever get justice in his tragic loss?
Doug: Full justice will only come with an answer to what happened that night. There's always hope.
Michael: If justice means apprehending and convicting the murderer, probably not. If there is a conviction on these charges, perhaps it will bring some closure to what has to be a devastating loss for the Wone family.
Craig: After this ordeal, I don't know what justice is anymore. I hope they find peace. It's a testament to Robert's life, that nearly four years after his tragic death, that he is still bringing people together. And maybe some things are more important than justice. Truth,for instance.
Michael: Well said, Craig.
Harry Jaffe: I am tempted to leave it at Craig's eloquence, but: Care to preview any hot posts we can expect on the "Who Murdered….?' web site? You have set a high bar and outclassed all of us mere journalists. Pressure…..
Michael: I'll let Craig handle that one.
Doug: If you're a 'mere journalist', what the heck are we? Nothing 'mere' about the piece you wrote, Harry… Yeah, Craig…any hot posts?
Craig: What's left to say? Maybe just a series of cathartic wind down observations as this phase daws to a close. And a reader poll or two maybe.
Harry Jaffe: Final question: Would you be willing to have another chat after the judge rules???
Michael: I am up for another chat after the verdict.
Craig: I'll be busy studying for my LSATs………
Harry Jaffe: Stick with posting and commenting — pays less but more fun.
Michael: I am thinking the same thing. there were some inspirational moments from all of the legal eagles in the courtroom.
Craig: Kidding about the LSATs, of course. Athough you didn't ask Harry – In terms of lessons learned, maybe the criminal justice process is too important, and possibly too broken to remain the exclusive domain of attorneys.
Harry Jaffe: OK — signing off. Thanks for chatting, for reading, for everyone's interest in finding truth or solace — dare I say peace — in the Robert Wone saga. Stay tuned….