The defendants in the Robert Wone slaying cover-up case have been found not guilty on all charges.
Even though the government's theory that housemates Joe Price, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky covered up the 2006 death of attorney Wone in their Swann Street NW home, there was not enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction, D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz said.
She dismissed the housemates' story that an intruder must have killed Wone. She also dismissed the prosecution's allegation that Price's brother, Michael Price, was the killer. But she did say it's likely the housemates know who did it.
"We are extremely gratified by Judge Leibovitz’s verdicts of not guilty on all counts as to all three defendants," Ward's attorneys said in a written statement. "As we have said since the murder of Mr. Wone, Mr. Ward is completely innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter."
"It's proof beyond a reasonable doubt," said Price's attorney, Bernard Grimm. "The court started its verdict with that statement and that axiom that we all live by and ended with the same. That's the system of justice."
The verdict doesn't mean the case is closed.
"We can only hope that further evidence will come to light that will allow us to move forward in the homicide investigation, which will remain open, and we will remain hard at work and committed to try and bring justice to the family of Robert Wone," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of waiting to call police in order to clean up the crime scene and dispose of evidence.
Wone was stabbed to death in August 2006. He had worked late, so he planned to spend the night in his friend Price's guestroom instead of driving home to Oakton, Va.
The first police officers that arrived at the scene testified that there was no evidence of a break-in to support the intruder story. Sgt. Charles Patrick testified that the defendants were whispering and glaring, which made him suspicious of them.
The trial largely was a matter of defense experts versus prosecution experts.
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A couple of forensics experts who testified in the O.J. Simpson trial were hired for this case. Douglas Deedrick testified for the prosecution about the bloody knife and towel found at the crime scene. He said that the blood on the knife was consistent with someone putting it on with a towel, not from a stabbing. Prosecutors accused the housemates of putting Wone's blood on that knife and planting it at the scene.
Defense witness Dr. Henry Lee, who also testified in the Simpson trial, said he believes that knife was the knife used in the stabbing.
Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. David Richard Fowler, a forensic pathologist, reviewed the evidence and testified for the prosecution that the three stabbing wounds looked oddly identical. Just as unusual, Fowler testified, was the lack of defensive wounds.
The defense suggested Wone may have had a cardiac tamponade, which causes a more instantaneous death than a typical stabbing death, but Fowler testified that wouldn't prevent reflex movements. He also testified that Wone probably died within 45 seconds to a minute of the first wound.
The apparent lack of response to the cuts and unexplained needle marks led the prosecution to suggest Wone was drugged before he was stabbed. Some of the needle marks could have been from paramedics' attempts to revive Wone, but others were surrounded by bruises implying he was conscious when the needle pierced his skin.
Dr. Farzad Najam, of the George Washington University Hospital, testified for the defense that the stabbing likely made Wone unconscious within seconds.
Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a medical examiner from Texas who testified in the Phil Spector trial, said Wone was probably asleep when he was stabbed, the stabbing probably took less than a second and Wone was probably dead within a minute. According to Di Maio, there are no defensive wounds in most stabbings.
David Schertler, an attorney for Ward, said in closing arguments that authorities can't prove the defendants lied without first solving the killing.
Kirschner argued the three men's unusual relationship shows the intensity of their bond and why they would be willing to lie to protect each other and their family members.
Kirschner said the defendants' statements were lacking and proved the men were lying. According to their statements, Zaborsky and Price discovered Wone's body, and Ward emerged from his bedroom later, after hearing the commotion. Kirschner questioned why Price and Zaborsky didn't immediately check on Ward if they believed a dangerous intruder was in the house. Ward's bedroom was next to the room in which Wone was found.
No one has been charged with murder in the case, but Joe Price, Zaborsky and Ward, described as being in a close, three-way relationship, were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Price also was charged with tampering with evidence. Zaborsky and Ward were acquitted of tampering charges after the prosecution presented its case.
The defendants opted for a bench trial instead of a jury.
Wone's widow, who wept in the courtroom as the verdict was announced Tuesday, has filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against the housemates.
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