A D.C. Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed evidence tampering charges against two of the three gay men on trial for conspiracy and other charges related to the 2006 murder of attorney Robert Wone.
But Judge Lynn Leibovitz rejected a defense motion to dismiss all charges against the men and instead ruled that prosecutors presented enough evidence to allow the trial to continue.
Her decision came after prosecutors rested their case Tuesday following testimony of more than 30 government witnesses across four weeks. The trial now enters the defense phase, with defense attorneys saying they expect to call about five or six witnesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner, the lead prosecutor in the case, said closing arguments could come in the middle of next week.
Leibovitz dismissed an evidence tampering charge against defendants Victor Zaborsky, 44, and Dylan Ward, 40, saying prosecutors never presented any direct evidence that the two touched a knife that the defense says was used by an intruder to stab Wone to death in the men’s Dupont Circle home.
The judge upheld the evidence tampering charge against the third defendant, Joseph Price, 39, and upheld charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice against all three men.
“The government has met its burden and a reasonable juror could find guilt,” the Washington Post quoted Leibovitz as saying. She added, though, that her decision was not a “verdict” or a “signal” of what she will decide in the final outcome of the case, the Post reported.
No one has been charged with Wone’s murder, and court observers have noted that regardless of the outcome of the trial, the mystery of who killed Wone won’t be solved in this case.
Leibovitz, rather than a jury, will determine the trial’s verdict at the request of the three defendants, all of whom chose to give up their right to a jury trial.
Prosecutors have argued that the knife found near Wone’s body was planted by the defendants, and one or more of them wiped Wone’s blood on the knife with a towel. Kirschner and two assistant prosecutors have argued that the defendants disposed of the actual knife used to kill Wone, intending to cover up for the killer.
Kirschner has said the men know the identity of the killer and that the government believes the killer might be Price’s brother, Michael Price, who had a key to the men’s house. Wone was found dead in a guest bedroom of the Dupont Circle area house where the three men lived at the time of the murder.
Wone and Joseph Price were friends from their days as students at Virginia’s College of William & Mary. Wone decided to spend the night at the men’s house after working late at his nearby office, where he served as general counsel for Radio Free Asia.
Prosecutors have presented numerous witnesses, including evidence experts and police officers specializing in home burglaries, who testified that they did not believe the murder was committed by a burglar or intruder. The witnesses noted that there was no evidence of a forced break in, nothing was taken from the house, including Wone’s wallet and Blackberry phone, which were laying on a nightstand in plain view at the time of the murder.
The defense has argued that the killer entered the house from an unlocked rear door while the three defendants were asleep in their respective bedrooms. The defense has asserted that the men never saw the intruder.