April 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. police move to block testimony in Wone civil trial

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Please, spare us from any further coverage of this case. The trio was acquitted, and we don’t want to read about it anymore. I am sorry for his death, but this ongoing saga is not something that the Blade needs to cover.

  • My guess is thar MPD is sending a signal of something “critical” that will be revealed, may be sending a schock wave, at the jury trial. It is typical when law enforcement officers and law practitioners are handling “sensitive,” “confidential” and “privilege” that no one wants to “spill the bean.”

  • Hey ‘Oh Please”, oh please shut up and turn the page if you don’t want to read coverage of this case. The Blade is serving its readers — who want even more coverage of this case.

  • I also hope Blade covers May 5th Stat Hearing. We want to hear the results and what goes on inside the courtroom from you.

  • I read from WhoMurderedRobertWone.com recently to get details of the hearing but I can not believe that people there are fighing other people to “get off that website.” What is wrong with that website? Why are they full of people who are so defensive and readly to bite your head off, of not beat you up so you don’t go there again?

    Has anyone have seen that website chewing up other people before? I saw some f..k words flying around even by the editor, Craig Brownstein. Why can’t they get a hold of themselves instead of “controlling the world around them?”

  • This is a perfectly legitimate topic for the Blade to cover, to respond to the guy who said he was tired of hearing about it. Of course the three “perps” in their s&m, “non-tradtional marriage” (i.e. polygamous relationship), let by the lawyer “principal perp” Joe Price, believe they have outwitted the febrile DC police, prosecutors and FBI by splashing bleach over the entire crime scene before the police arrived (future perps take note). And they have.

    So now the goal is to utilize the best criminal attorneys the DC bar can provide, save their remaining assets and continue to dodge a murder wrap. No other reason to take the Fifth.

    Interesting after all these years no one in the amoral D.C. gay community has come forward to give some justice to Mr. Wone, whose life was snuffed likely by these three “heavy sleepers”.

    Keep the heat on and one day these three will pay for their crime and we won’t have to wait for the devil to take his own. You don’t think good lawyers cant help you beat a murder rap? Think again.

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