As the conspiracy trial continued this week for three gay men implicated in the 2006 murder of Washington lawyer Robert Wone, it remained unclear whether the men would take the witness stand to testify.
But defendants Joseph Price and Dylan Ward effectively appeared as virtual witnesses Monday and Tuesday as prosecutors showed in the courtroom a police video of homicide detectives questioning the men about the murder.
The interrogations took place in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2006, a few hours after Wone was found stabbed to death in a second-floor guest room at Price, Ward and Victor Zaborsky’s upscale townhouse on Swann Street, N.W., near Dupont Circle.
“At no time did Price appear very emotional or upset,” reported Craig Brownstein, a writer with the Who Murdered Robert Wone blog, which described Price’s responses to questions by two detectives sitting beside him in the interrogation room.
Brownstein reported that Ward watched the video intently while sitting behind the defense table, but Price looked straight ahead at the lawyers and never looked at the video.
The men have been charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering. If convicted on all three counts, they face a possible maximum sentence of 38 years in prison. No one has been charged with Wone’s murder.
Transcripts of the videotaped interrogations of Price and Ward show that detectives repeatedly challenged their claim that an unidentified intruder killed Wone after entering their house from a rear door while they were asleep in their respective bedrooms.
Wone’s wife testified last week that her husband, a longtime friend of Price from their days as students at the College of William & Mary, spent the night at the men’s house after working late at his nearby office.
The detectives noted that they found no evidence of a forced entry into the house. They said nothing was taken or disturbed, including valuable items in clear view on the first floor, including a flat screen television. Why would an intruder presumably arriving to burglarize the house bypass expensive items, go upstairs, walk past Ward’s bedroom and enter the room where Wone was sleeping and stab him, the detectives wanted to know.
“I understand it doesn’t make sense,” Ward told them.
Defense attorneys, including gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, asked the detectives during their cross examination whether investigators and prosecutors “jumped to conclusions” that the three men were implicated in the murder because of their sexual orientation and their three-way romantic relationship.
The defense has repeatedly referred to Det. Sgt. Daniel Wager’s questioning of Price about why Wone, whose family says he was straight, wanted to stay at their house.
“I got three homosexuals in a house and one straight guy,” he told Price in the interrogation room. “What is he doing there?” Wagner added, “I think you were all drinking wine and you know what’s going to happen tonight.”
Price responded by calling what he considered Wagner’s suggestion that the gay housemates were interested in a sexual encounter with Wone as being “insulting.”
Spagnoletti and defense attorneys David Schertler and Bernard Grimm each pressed the detectives in cross examination about whether they pursued other scenarios in the investigation, including Price’s claim that other people such as contractors had keys to the men’s house. Grimm repeatedly asked Wagner whether his approach to the investigation was shaped by his “attitudes” toward homosexuals.
The detectives replied that, after what they called a thorough assessment of the evidence, they concluded that no intruder entered the house on the night of the murder.
Police and prosecutors say they have evidence showing the three men delayed calling 911 to report the stabbing and appeared to have tampered with the crime scene and covered up evidence to protect the killer. Prosecutors say they believe one or all three of the men know the killer’s identity.
Defense attorneys say they will show that police botched the investigation by failing to pursue and identify the intruder that the defense says murdered Robert Wone.
The trial is expected to continue for at least another three weeks. Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who is presiding over the trial, will decide the defendants’ guilt or innocence following their decision to give up their right to a jury trial.