Three D.C. gay men charged in a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit in connection with the 2006 murder of local attorney Robert Wone notified the court that the men would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify in an upcoming civil trial, according to a lawyer involved in the case.
Patrick Regan, the attorney representing Wone’s widow and family members who filed the lawsuit, discussed the defendants’ position on possible testimony following a Sept. 16 status hearing at D.C. Superior Court. He told reporters that defense lawyers informed him the defendants don’t plan to offer written testimony and most likely would not testify at a civil trial now set for Oct. 17, 2011.
“Defendants don’t assert their Fifth Amendment rights if they are not guilty of something,” the Washington Post quoted Regan as saying.
Regan and other attorneys representing the Wone family told Judge Brook Hedge at the hearing that they plan to file a motion to force the men to testify. Hedge or another judge is expected to issue a ruling on whether the defendants should be compelled to testify at some time prior to the start of the trial.
Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward were acquitted of charges of evidence tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice in connection with Wone’s murder during a criminal trial earlier this year. No one has been charged with the murder.
Arthur Spitzer, an attorney with the D.C.-area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits people from being forced to testify at any proceeding that could result in their incriminating themselves.
As a result of their acquittal in the criminal case, Price, Zaborsky and Ward cannot be incriminated on the charges for which they were found not guilty. But Spitzer noted that the three men could be criminally implicated on other charges, including murder, should the government obtain sufficient new evidence in the Wone case.
Attorneys on both sides of the case did not respond to a request for comment by press time.