Settlement Announced In Robert Wone Wrongful Death Suit

The widow of Robert Wone, the Washington lawyer who was fatally stabbed five years ago, has agreed to settle a wrongful death suit against the three men who were acquitted on charges of covering up the unsolved homicide.

Lawyers for Wone’s widow announced the settlement agreement but declined to disclose the terms of the deal, citing its confidentiality provision.

The defendants, Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward, are required to make monetary payments, said Benjamin Razi, a Covington & Burling partner who represented Wone’s estate. Razi said the settlement prohibits disclosure of the amount.

Kathy Wone’s civil suit, filed in November 2008 in District of Columbia Superior Court, demanded $20 million from the men, who lived together in Northwest Washington. Razi said the opposing sides reached the settlement after a mediation session in late June and extensive negotiation over the last several weeks.

Razi said Price, Zaborsky and Ward stymied Kathy Wone’s search for the truth about the events the night of Aug. 2, 2006, when Wone was killed in the home of Zaborsky and Price, a former Arent Fox partner in Washington. The men refused to answer deposition questions, citing their right against self incrimination, Razi said.

“The defendants essentially testified they couldn’t tell Kathy what happened without the risk of incriminating themselves,” Razi said. “The trial was going to be a show. They weren’t going to come forward and provide any new information.”

Price, Zaborsky and Ward have vehemently denied any involvement in the homicide and contend they spoke truthfully, and in complete detail, to the Metropolitan Police Department investigation. The authorities say the murder investigation remains open.

The housemates, who have since moved to Florida, blamed an intruder for Wone’s death. Police, however, did not find signs of a forced entry into the house.

Wone suffered three stab wounds to his chest. His body showed no indication of a struggle or any defensive wounds, investigators said. Police believe Wone, a college friend of Price, was restrained or drugged when he was killed. But investigators did not find drugs in Wone’s body or evidence of restraint.

In late 2008 and early 2009, more than two years after the murder, prosecutors charged Zaborsky, Ward and Price with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, saying they concealed information about the circumstances the night Wone was stabbed.

The men, who did not testify at trial, were acquitted last June after a five-week bench trial. Judge Lynn Leibovitz said in her decision it is “very probable” Price, Ward and Zaborsky know more about the events surrounding the murder than they have revealed.

Police interrogated the three men for hours after the murders. Lawyers for Price, Zaborsky and Ward said they cooperated with the investigation, speaking without counsel present.

The criminal defense lawyers for the men, including David Schertler for Ward, Bernard Grimm for Price and Thomas Connolly for Zaborsky, argued police too narrowly focused on the men to the exclusion of others. The defense attorneys charged that prosecutors built the case on innuendo, not evidence.

Connolly, a partner at Wiltshire & Grannis, once described the government’s case as “theory chasing evidence.” Cozen O’Connor partner Grimm called the prosecution’s theory a “fantasy.”

After the acquittal, Kathy Wone’s attorneys said they were eager to move the civil litigation forward. The case was on hold pending the outcome of the criminal prosecution.

Kathy Wone, according to Razi, was “enlightened” by the Fifth Amendment invocation to central questions in the civil litigation.

“All the key questions. Did you stab Robert Wone? Did you clean up the crime scene?” Razi said. “All those questions were asked in depositions and the Fifth Amendment was invoked.”

Lawyers for Price, Zaborsky and Ward argued the men fear future prosecution and have a right not to incriminate themselves. Investigators, the attorneys said, could have used any new statements to aid the homicide probe.

“It is apparent from the course of the original criminal case, statements made by the government and the availability of criminal charges not barred by double jeopardy that the defendants face more than a mere possibility of further prosecution,” the defense lawyers said in court papers. “It is a real and omnipresent threat.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael Rankin had not ruled on Kathy Wone’s demand that Price, Zaborsky and Ward answer deposition questions. A status hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Kathy Wone’s legal team, which included plaintiffs’ lawyer Patrick Regan of Washington’s Regan, Zambri and Long, said they were confident they would have prevailed at trial.

But winning a civil judgment, Razi said, posed another challenge: collection. Razi said it was unknown how much money the defendants have after years of criminal defense legal bills. The Florida Bar’s web site does not show that Price is practicing law in that state.

The Wone estate, Razi said, was in a “real quandary” with taking the case all the way to trial. A personal liability insurance policy, Razi said, is involved in the case. But the policy, he said, would not cover a civil judgment for an intentional killing.

Wone’s lawyers served pro bono. Robert Wone was a former Covington associate. At the time of his death, he was general counsel for Radio Free Asia. Wone was 32.

Razi called the settlement a compromise. He said Kathy Wone loses “that day on the courthouse steps” where she could declare, if successful, a civil judgment.

“She is losing the symbolic value of a civil judgment,” Razi said. He added: “But through the settlement she is gaining peace and closure and so much more.”

Tuesday marked the five year anniversary of Robert Wone’s death, which remains one of the District’s most vexing unsolved murders. The authorities have not charged anyone in the killing.