A judge presiding over the upcoming civil trial against three gay men implicated in the 2006 murder of D.C. attorney Robert Wone changed the trial date from June 13 to Sept. 12, 2011.
In an order handed down Sept. 10, D.C. Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge said starting what is expected to be a lengthy trial in June would “present possible issues with juror selection in light of possible preplanned vacations.”
She noted in her order that attorneys on both sides of the case agreed to the change, acknowledging it would be difficult to line up jurors in the summer for a trial expected to last several months.
The three defendants in the case — Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward — were found not guilty in a criminal trial in June. They had been charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering in connection with Wone’s murder. No one has been charged with the murder.
Wone’s wife and family members filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against the three men shortly after prosecutors indicted them on the criminal charges. A judge later ordered the civil case to be put on hold until after the completion of the criminal trial.
Since the time of their acquittal in the criminal trial on June 29, the defendants’ lawyers have been contesting a request by lawyers for Mrs. Wone to have certain evidence from the criminal trial released for use in the civil case. Among the evidence sought by Mrs. Wone’s attorneys are e-mail and phone records from the defendants.
Wone was found stabbed to death in a guest bedroom in the house where the three men lived on Swann Street, N.W., near Dupont Circle. They said they believed an intruder killed Wone after entering the house from a rear door while they were asleep in their respective bedrooms.
Police and prosecutors presented evidence disputing the “intruder” theory in the case and charged that the three men knew the identity of the killer and conspired to prevent police from solving the case.
Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who presided over the criminal case, stated in a written decision that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Price, Zaborsky and Ward committed the offenses with which they were charged. In a development that startled some legal observers, Leibovitz said in her decision that the government did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an intruder didn’t commit the murder.
Some legal observers have said her carefully crafted decision could be helpful to the Wone family in the civil case, where the threshold for finding guilt is not as stringent as it is in a criminal case.
Leibovitz rendered the verdict after the defendants waived their right to a jury trial and requested that Leibovitz decide on their guilt or innocence.