In a surprise development, the judge presiding over the conspiracy and obstruction of justice trial of three gay men implicated in the murder of attorney Robert Wone agreed Wednesday to the defendants’ request to waive their right to a trial by jury.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz approved the defense request after the lead prosecutor in the case gave his consent and after defendants Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward testified under oath that they made the request knowingly and without coercion.
“This is very rare for a felony case, especially for a high-profile felony case like this,” said gay D.C. attorney Dale Sanders, who practices criminal law.
The defendants have placed their fate in the hands of Leibovitz, who will now decide their innocence or guilt, after she made a series of pre-trial rulings mostly favorable to the defense.
However, she handed down one key ruling Tuesday that rejected a defense motion to separate the case so that each defendant could be tried individually rather than together in one shared trial.
In response to Leibovitz’s question of why the defendants decided against a jury trial, defense attorney Thomas Connolly, who represents Zaborsky, said the extensive media coverage of the trial was one factor “but not critical,” according to a report by the blog Who Murdered Robert Wone.
Defense attorney David Schertler, who represents Ward, told Leibovitz the decision was based on “broader considerations,” the blog reported.
Opening arguments in the case, now referred to as a bench trial, are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday at D.C. Superior Court.