May 6, 2010 at 10:00 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Former activists on trial in Wone case

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 “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.”

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

  • Mr. Chibbaro, I thank you for your continued coverage of this case and look forward to more articles from you.

  • The arrival of marriage equality in the District came as a major and wonderful achievement and I think most LGBT people think that it is “they” – the heterosexual community – who be the ones to make the adjustments to it. That said, I am not so sure. The LGBT community’s lack of experience with the marriage concept means we have to make a paradigm shift as well.

    In the article describing The Wone case, the reporter cites a source who desribes the household of three men as “polygamist”. I understand that our community considers itself to be more sexually liberated than mainstream society, Yet, if we are going to talk about sexuality, at the very least, we ought to know what it is we are really talking about.

    The word “Polygamy” does not in any way describe the relation between any of the individuals involved with this sad story. Polygamy describes a marriage in which a man has several legal wives. Conversively “Polyandry” describes a woman with many legal husbands. Further, if Mr. Wone was legally married and had sex outside his marriage, then by Virginia law, he would be guilty of a misdemeanor adultery. Or perhaps someone filled
    the role of “catamite”.

    Perhaps “Satyrism” is a better word to describe the activity of legally unmarried gay male sexual activity with frequent and multiple sexual partners. Look it up in the dictionary.

  • If as the defendants claim, some other dude did it, they have no rational reasons for the actions they took at the time and the actions they didn’t take.

    Someone who finds a friend in his home bleeding from wounds and seemingly unconscious, and knowing he did not injure his friend, would be more likely to call 9/11 for medical assistance, not start cleaning the place.

    Personally,I don’t believe some other dude did it, so I won’t be seated as a juror in the trial. Even though the city probably won’t be able to convict them for the killing, I still think they belong in jail for the confusion they deliberately caused making it impossible for the police to give Mr. Wone and his family justice.

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