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Former activists on trial in Wone case

Unsolved murder has elements of gay mystery novel

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Three once politically active gay men whose polygamist relationship and proclivity for S&M sex has been exposed by prosecutors following a D.C. murder investigation are scheduled to go on trial May 10 in a case that mimics a mystery novel.

Gay rights attorney Joseph Price, dairy industry official Victor Zaborsky and former Virginia gay rights group staffer turned massage therapist Dylan Ward have been charged with evidence tampering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in connection with the August 2006 murder of Asian American attorney Robert Wone.

Wone, 32, was found stabbed to death in a second floor guest room in the Dupont Circle area townhouse where the three gay men lived at the time. Authorities have yet to charge anyone with the murder itself, but police and prosecutors have said they believe Price, Zaborsky and Ward most likely know the identity of the killer.

The men have pleaded not guilty, saying an unidentified intruder who entered their house through a rear door killed Wone while the three slept.

Wone was a longtime friend of Price since the two were students at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He was spending the night at the gay men’s house on Swann Street, N.W. after working late at his nearby office, according to his wife, Kathy Wone, and other family members who say he was straight.

The trial is set to begin after more than a year of haggling between defense and government attorneys over the admissibility of a mountain of evidence gathered by D.C. police and prosecutors. A team of nearly one dozen defense lawyers is set to face off against a smaller team of prosecutors headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner, who is considered one of the city’s most effective prosecutors.

“Given the sophistication of the defendants’ cover-up of the murder of Robert Wone, the evidence obtained to date does not yet establish beyond a reasonable doubt who actually killed Robert Wone,” Kirschner wrote in a government motion filed in February.

“Although the government investigation into the murder continues,” he wrote, “there is ample evidence demonstrating the killer is someone known to the defendants, and not, as the defendants told the police, an unknown, unseen phantom intruder.”

Much of the government’s evidence against the three defendants surfaced in October 2008, when prosecutors released a 13-page affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for Ward, who was the first of the three men to be charged in the case.

The affidavit describes in detail some of the findings of crime scene investigators and an autopsy conducted on Wone. It says that someone in the house cleaned the crime scene by wiping away spattered blood. The affidavit also says chemical and fiber tests showed someone used a towel to wipe some of Wone’s blood onto a knife taken from the defendants’ kitchen. The men told police they found the bloody knife on a nightstand in the room where Wone was sleeping, saying it was the weapon an intruder used to stab Wone three times in the chest and abdomen.

Prosecutors, however, said later that a knife missing from a cutlery set found in Ward’s bedroom appeared to be the actual murder weapon based on the shape and depth of the stab wounds. Prosecutors obtained a duplicate of the missing knife from the manufacturer for the purpose of comparing it to the wounds on Wone’s body, court papers show.

Prosecutors initially said they would argue at trial that Wone had been immobilized by a paralytic drug, sexual assaulted and possibly tortured with needle punctures found in various places on his body before being stabbed. They pointed to autopsy findings showing surgical-like stab wounds on the body, with no signs that Wone moved or flinched when he was attacked. The lack of any signs of defensive wounds or slightly jagged stab wounds — which are found in virtually all stabbings — indicated the victim was immobilized, Kirchner has argued.

Kirschner has since said the government has been unable to definitively show through chemical tests that Wone was immobilized with a drug, but he indicated he might introduce evidence found in Ward’s bedroom of a large collection of S&M sex devices, including body restraints, face masks, and an object used to administer an electric shock to different parts of the body.

Defense attorneys, led by seasoned trial lawyers Bernard Grimm, Thomas Connolly and Robert Spagnoletti, the gay former D.C. attorney general and a former U.S. prosecutor, have waged a fierce pre-trial fight to disqualify key pieces of government evidence. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz was expected to rule on evidence related matters as a final pre-trial hearing set for Wednesday, after Blade deadline.

While details of the murder scene and the private, sexual proclivities of the defendants have emerged over the past two years, gay activists have watched cautiously as fellow activist Price prepares for trial.

Price, an attorney in private practice, had served as general counsel to Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT rights group based in Richmond. Ward, who worked as a staff member of the group, left the organizations a few months before the Wone murder. Price withdrew from the group shortly after the Wone murder drew extensive media coverage.

“You have gay activists on trial that had a polygamist gay family,” said David Greer, a D.C. gay man and one of four editors of whomurderedrobertwone.com. “Having a conjugal relationship with more than one partner is not pushing the white-picket-fence image that gay organizations like to promote.

“To have them on trial in an unseemly situation that has surfaced here is difficult for the gay community. But it also shows that our community has matured” by not automatically rallying behind activists charged with a crime, Greer said. “It shows that our community supports justice.”

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Rehoboth Beach

Selling Rehoboth: Lee Ann Wilkinson wins prestigious real estate award

Longtime agent on beach prices, her LGBTQ allyship, and more

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Lee Ann Wilkinson doesn’t see real estate prices coming down anytime soon at the beach. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Longtime Delaware real estate leader Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway recently celebrated a major industry award after being named No. 1 in total sales volume for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Network. Wilkinson, a Blade contributor, centers much of her work in the coastal communities of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. We caught up with her to discuss her long career in real estate, her LGBTQ allyship, and more.

Washington Blade: I learned your parents were in real estate, and you began working with them early on in your career. Did you initially intend to follow in their footsteps? 

Lee Ann Wilkinson: Not really. I majored in art. When I got out of college I couldn’t really find a job. So, my parents said, “You need to come work for us.”

Blade: I understand that as an art history major turned writer. Speaking of that: I know you have written some pieces for the Blade, about real estate trends, and the like. How do you pick your topics for these articles? 

Wilkinson:  People always want to know about real estate. Whether buying a first home, second home, a home to invest or retire in. It amazes even me how much interest there is. And it’s not just people looking to buy a $7 million home on beachfront property. It’s people looking to get something in budget for their family.

Blade: I know you have a lot of work in Rehoboth, the Delaware Valley’s historically gay beachside community. Was there ever a time you were NOT selling property to – I guess it was fair to say 40 years ago – mostly gay men? 

Wilkinson: Ha, I grew up coming down for the summer until my family moved here full-time from Norristown, outside of Philly. We had businesses and family in Rehoboth. I think Rehoboth has always been gay-friendly. We never thought about it. My grandfather had a house in Rehoboth before I was born. The gay population was always welcome.

Blade: Do you have a connection to the LGBTQ community beyond real estate? 

Wilkinson: Absolutely. One of my closest friends is a guy I went to college with at the University of Delaware, Joey. You know, Joey was maybe my first gay friend. In fact, we all went to the Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Rehoboth. We have gay family members, so I have never thought that much about it being anything different.

Blade: I know you recently won a prestigious award with Berkshire Hathaway and were surprised to come in first place. Why?

Wilkinson: For the past 20 years or so we have been in the top 10. We started doing these national things with Berkshire Hathaway. To get in the top 10 was amazing to me especially going up against states like Florida, New Jersey, not to mention San Francisco or Bay Area agents. I just never thought we’d get to the number one spot. My only issue is — where to go now?

Blade: Where do you make your primary residence? Is that Lewes? Do you see the president on occasion? 

Wilkinson: I haven’t seen him at the beach. But he’s on the bike trail a lot. He pops up having breakfast. He goes to Mass at St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth on Saturday evening. But I’m often too busy with work on weekends to catch sight of him.

Blade: Having been in the industry 40 years, how do you find ways to get excited about your work? 

Wilkinson: I really am passionate about it. I really love a challenge. That’s part of the appeal for this job. I always like matching people with things. I really liked getting people the right bathing suits years ago. Selling, it’s just something I’m good at. I would get customers walking outta’ the store with three or four bathing suits when they only wanted one. 

Blade: Are you considering retiring in the next few years? Or will you always be associated with the industry on some level. Maybe as a mentor or silent partner? 

Wilkinson: Oh, no, I’ll always be involved. Three of my four daughters work for me. I am not retiring anytime soon. And if I did, they would be here to continue it on, and I am sure I’d weigh in.

Blade: So, this is very much a family legacy?

Wilkinson: Yeah. My parents are 87 and 91 now. Some 20 years ago mom predicted we’d see an increase in prices, people moving here, etc. I don’t know how she predicted it but mom is right.

Blade: Any current trends you’re noticing? 

Wilkinson: This cycle of people moving here, and prices increasing, and all the building happening. People think the prices are going to come down, but I don’t see that happening.

Blade: Tell me about that. Are the new building ventures changing the faces of Rehoboth and Lewes? After not visiting the Jersey Shore for over a decade I’ve been going the past few summers to my cousin’s place in Cape May. It’s a trailer on a nicely maintained campground and it’s what she can afford. And, there’s so much building happening there.

Wilkinson: Right? It’s about finding a second home you can afford. And, in terms of building projects, the good thing about Rehoboth and Lewes is they are strict on what you can and can’t build downtown. They aren’t going to tear down homes to build multi-family condos, not yet anyway. In Spring Lake, you are seeing townhomes. So, building is happening and we have some condos, but it’s great to not see “overbuilding” happening in these historically smaller cities.

To learn more about Ms. Wilkinson, or property in Sussex County, DE be sure to look for articles she publishes in the Blade and visit the Lee Ann Wilkinson Group website.

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Local

Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights

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Diego Garcia Blum

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Diego Garcia Blum on his new position as director, Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program, at the Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This new program will expand research and training on safeguarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. It will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals globally. The vision is to establish the Carr Center as a key international nexus for LGBTQI+ human rights policy, training, ideas, and dialogue

 “The heart of this program is empowering and supporting the brave LGBTQI+ activists working in challenging and often perilous environments,” Garcia Blum said. “Through our training and high-impact research, we aim to supercharge their efforts.”

Prior to this, he has had a varied and impressive career. Recently he served as a Social Change Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. He worked with the Human Rights Campaign, serving on its Board of Governors. Prior to that, he worked as a nuclear engineer at Orano, a French company. It is described as a global leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services, from mining to dismantling, conversion, enrichment, recycling, logistics and engineering. He has won many awards for his work and education. The Innovation CORE award at Orano; The Dean Joseph Weil Leadership Award, University of Florida; Most Outstanding Master in Public Policy Student – Ellen Raphael Award, Harvard Kennedy School. 

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