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Posted at 4:08 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Judge rejects petitions in Wone trial

By Keith L. Alexander
Keith L. Alexander

D.C. Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge rejected three requests Wednesday by the attorneys for the three D.C. roommates in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of Robert E. Wone, the Washington lawyer who was staying the night at the three men's home the evening he was stabbed to death four years ago.

Attorneys for the then roommates, Joseph R. Price, Dylan M. Ward and Victor J. Zaborsky, petitioned the judge to dismiss the civil case, arguing that the case was past the statute of limitations. Hedge disagreed and cited the most recent evidence that was discovered in 2008 that led federal prosecutors to charge the three men with obstruction of justice that same year. In June, after a five-week trial, Price, Zaborsky and Ward were acquitted of charges of covering up for the killer and tampering with evidence. No one has been arrested in  Wone's slaying.

Hedge also rejected the defendants' request to issue a gag order and prevent participants from speaking to the media. The request came after a September hearing in which Wone family attorney Patrick M. Regan, in an impromptu news conference in the courthouse hallway, criticized the decision of the three men to not testifying during the civil trial. After the hearing, Regan told the media that "defendants don't assert their Fifth Amendment rights if they are not guilty of something."

In their filings, attorneys for the three men said such comments could "taint the jury pool" of potential jurors who could hear the case when it goes to court in October. The attorneys urged Hedge to restrict Regan and other attorneys for making such statements in the future. Hedge rejected the gag request, but admonished the attorneys to restrict their comments and  "bite their tongues" when choosing to discuss anything that happened outside of public filings or hearings.

Hedge also gave a slight victory to Wone's attorneys and informed the defendants that if they chose to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, they had to do so in front of a jury so jurors could hear the defendants choosing not to testify. Attorneys for the men had argued that they wanted the option of invoking on behalf of their clients. But Hedge disagreed and ruled that if the men chose not to testify, they and not their attorneys must inform the jury that it was their decision to do so.

Choosing not to testify could be a risky defense move because in civil trials, as opposed to criminal trials, jurors are allowed to make inferences as to why a defendant chooses not to testify on their own behalf.

Wone, a lawyer who worked as general counsel for Radio Free Asia, was found fatally stabbed in the men's home at 1509 Swann St. NW on Aug. 2, 2006. The roommates said an unknown intruder entered the townhouse and killed Wone. No one has been charged in the slaying.

Wednesday's proceedings in the Wone case will probably be the last for Hedge, who is retiring at the end of the year. Judge Michael L. Rankin, who currently oversees felony trials, will assume Hedge's 2011 cases.

Wone's wife, Katherine, his parents and other families, who filed the lawsuit, were present at Wednesday's hearing. Zaborsky, Price and Ward were not present.

By Keith L. Alexander  | December 8, 2010; 4:08 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse, Keith L. Alexander  | Tags:  Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Lawsuit, Lawyer, Radio Free Asia  
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The ordeal of the trial has to be emotionally wrenching experience for the Wone family. I hope they achieve some justice and closure in the civil trial. Perhaps, and maybe I am being overly optimistic, the public will actually discover what happened to Robert Wone.

My sympathies to his family and friends.

Posted by: atkissonjim | December 9, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

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