The ongoing criminal investigation into the 2006 murder of attorney Robert Wone inside the Dupont Circle area home of three gay men could be harmed if attorneys for the men are allowed to force homicide detectives to testify for the defense at an upcoming civil trial on the Wone case.
That was the argument made by Assistant D.C. Attorney General Patricia Bonkor on Tuesday on behalf of police officials at a D.C. Superior Court status hearing in the $20 million wrongful death lawsuit that Wone’s wife, Kathy Wone, has brought against the gay men.
Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward were found not guilty in a criminal trial in 2009, in which they faced charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering in connection with Wone’s murder. Authorities did not charge the men or anyone else with the murder, and D.C. police say they are continuing their investigation.
Many court observers believe police and prosecutors hope to charge one or all of the three gay defendants with the murder if new evidence surfaces in their investigation. With that specter hanging over their heads, the three defendants have invoked their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify in the civil case on grounds that such testimony could violate their constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
In Tuesday’s status hearing, Donkor said attorneys representing the men filed a subpoena calling for the court to force at least four homicide detectives to testify, first through pre-trial depositions and possibly at the trial itself, without specifying what questions they plan to ask the detectives.
She told Judge Michael Rankin, who is currently presiding over the civil case, that disclosure of any information that had not be disclosed in the criminal trial would be highly damaging to the ongoing police probe into Wone’s murder.
Benjamin Razi, the lead attorney representing Kathy Wone in the civil case, told Rankin his client isn’t taking sides in the dispute over the police testimony, saying, “We don’t have a dog in this fight.”
But Razi reiterated his longstanding concern that the defendants’ refusal to testify or submit to depositions on all questions posed by the plaintiff oversteps the bounds of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and amounted to an obstruction of Mrs. Wone’s ability to shed light on what happened on the night her husband was found stabbed to death in the guest bedroom at the defendants’ townhouse on Swann Street, N.W.
Rankin cut Razi off, saying those issues would be decided later. He directed defense attorneys to cooperate with Donkor and D.C. police officials in seeking to reach an agreement over what the detectives would be asked if he eventually allows the defense to question them in depositions or at the trial. He scheduled a follow-up hearing on the matter for May 5.
The Wone civil trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.