Murder of Robert Eric Wone
Murder of Robert Eric Wone, age of 32, an American attorney met his untimely demise in Washington, D.C., in August 2006, within the abode of his college companion, Joseph Price. Although residing in the suburban enclave of Oakton, Virginia, the lawyer, named Wone, held the position of general counsel at Radio Free Asia in the heart of downtown Washington. He had chosen to spend a night at the domicile of friends situated just about one mile away from his office.
As per records provided by the police, it was suspected that Wone had been subjected to “restraint, incapacitation, and sexual assault” prior to his passing. The occupants of the residence – Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward – contended that the act of murder had been perpetrated by an unfamiliar intruder, a claim that was deemed implausible by the judge presiding over the trial. The official cause of Wone’s demise was officially attributed to the knife wounds he had sustained.
Shortly after the murder occurred, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) claimed that the crime scene had been interfered with. However, it took more than two years for any formal charges to be brought forward. In the latter part of 2008, the police formally accused Price, Zaborsky, and Ward of obstructing justice and conspiring in connection to the alleged manipulation of the crime scene. These charges were ultimately dismissed, and the three men were declared innocent in June 2010.
No additional individuals have faced charges in relation to Wone’s tragic demise. During November 2008, his widow, Katherine Wone, initiated a lawsuit for wrongful death against Price, Zaborsky, and Ward. This legal case reached a resolution on August 3, 2011, through an undisclosed settlement agreement involving a monetary sum.
At the time of his passing on August 3, 2006, Robert Eric Wone was 32 years old. He hailed from a lineage of fourth generation Chinese Americans and was born in Manhattan. His upbringing took place in Brooklyn, New York.
Upon his high school graduation as the valedictorian of his class at Xaverian High School, Wone proceeded to pursue his education at the College of William & Mary. During the academic year of 1992–93, he crossed paths with Joseph Price, who was then a senior. Their interaction encompassed various engagements such as participation in an honor society and assuming roles within the student government. Joseph Price graduated in 1993.
In September 1993, a joint article co-authored by Wone was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article critiqued an earlier piece in the Times-Dispatch related to the faculty at William & Mary. In 1996, Wone successfully completed his studies at William & Mary and subsequently earned his Juris Doctor degree with honors from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1999.
He subsequently served as law clerk to Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Wone later worked in commercial real estate law for six years as an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling. As part of his public service responsibilities with the firm, he served as general counsel for the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA).
On June 7, 2003, Wone married Katherine Ellen Yu, and the couple lived in Fairfax County, Virginia. On June 30, 2006, about two months before he was killed, Wone left Covington & Burling and was hired as general counsel for Radio Free Asia. Wone was very active within the Asian American community, supporting organizations such as OCA and the Museum of Chinese in America. At the time of his death, he was president-elect of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
On August 2, 2006, a tragic incident occurred when Wone was fatally stabbed while staying overnight at a rowhouse located on Swann Street, situated in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. This residence was owned by Price and his partner Victor Zaborsky, where they shared their home with Dylan Ward as part of a polyamorous family arrangement. Wone had visited Price’s residence around 10:30pm, a plan that had been made days ahead due to his late work schedule.
Neighbors recollected hearing a scream, which was later identified as originating from Zaborsky, during the 11:00pm news broadcast, specifically before 11:35 PM. At 11:49 PM, Zaborsky made a prompt 9-1-1 call, and within five minutes, paramedics arrived at the scene, followed by officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC). Price reached out to Wone’s wife by phone, and unfortunately, Wone was declared deceased at George Washington University Hospital at 12:24 AM on August 3rd.
Price, Zaborsky and Ward all initially spoke with the police without attorneys, and video recordings of those interviews were shown at the subsequent conspiracy trial. The three men denied any involvement in Wone’s death and speculated that an intruder had killed him. The three also denied any sexual relationship with Wone, and Wone’s family have described him as both “straight and happily married”. All three men attended Wone’s funeral, where Price served as a pallbearer. Future U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who at that time worked at Wone’s former employer Covington & Burling, called Wone “a kind and gentle man” who was “killed in the most horrible of ways”.
Upon responding to the emergency call, paramedics noted the three residents’ peculiarly composed behavior; none were engaging in frantic screams or assisting in guiding the paramedics. According to Ward’s attorney, during the night of the killing, the detectives who interviewed the trio of housemates explicitly conveyed that they were primary suspects in the case. Their questioning was marked by a slew of sexually charged and accusatory inquiries.
Three days following the tragic event, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the MPDC was summoned into action. However, the leader of the unit, Sgt. Brett Parson, chose not to disclose any details about the unit’s involvement. Within a fortnight of the murder, law enforcement officials publicly asserted that there had been manipulation of the crime scene.
For an extensive period surpassing three weeks, investigators meticulously scrutinized the Swann Street rowhouse, conducting a thorough examination. This meticulous process involved the removal of flooring, sections of walls, a substantial piece of the staircase, the washing machine, and even sink traps.
Allegations concerning the potential cleaning of the vicinity surrounding Wone’s body were brought to light in an affidavit that supported a search warrant application targeting Price’s offices at the law firm Arent Fox in Washington, D.C.
Three months following Wone’s passing, the Swann Street rowhouse experienced a break-in orchestrated by Price’s sibling Michael, accompanied by an assistant named Phelps Collins. They absconded with a haul exceeding $7,000 in value, comprising electrical equipment. Although two individuals, including Price’s brother, initially faced allegations in connection with the burglary, these accusations were ultimately retracted.
In 2007, the MPDC affirmed that they had been actively working to effect an arrest in the Wone murder case back in 2006. However, their intentions were thwarted by the burglary incident. The identity of the potential arrestee and the nature of the potential charge(s) have both been shrouded in secrecy by the police.
In August of 2007, frustrations were voiced by Wone’s widow concerning the FBI crime lab, as reported by The Washington Post. She conveyed that the waiting period for the completion of the FBI’s analysis of the collected samples had been challenging. Spanning over a year, the case had been passed between three different prosecutors, leading to what was termed as a “vagabond status” within the U.S. Attorneys’ office.
To delve into the case, Wone’s widow enlisted the services of attorney Holder. On the first anniversary of her husband’s demise, she organized a press conference to seek public assistance in identifying the perpetrator. This marked her initial public statement about the case. During this event, Holder openly appealed to Price, Zaborsky, and Ward, urging them to provide any additional information they might possess. He emphasized, “You need to ask yourself, ‘Have I provided police with all the information I know?'”
Advocacy groups, including the OCA, seized upon the first anniversary of Wone’s passing to criticize perceived inaction by the police in the investigation. Contrasting the circumstances of the first anniversary, the second anniversary passed without a press conference, and both the Wone family and law enforcement refrained from issuing any statements to the media.
Charged with obstructing the investigation
By October 2008, Ward, who had relocated to Miami-Dade County, Florida and was residing in a property owned by Price, faced an obstruction of justice charge. In the subsequent month of November 2008, Price and Zaborsky were apprehended and similarly accused of obstruction of justice. The trio was eventually released while awaiting trial, although they were required to adhere to electronic monitoring and curfew regulations.
On December 19, 2008, an additional layer of charges emerged, encompassing conspiracy allegations against all three individuals. During the same legal proceeding, the electronic monitoring and curfew mandates for the three defendants were lifted. Prosecutors also conveyed the potential for future charges linked to evidence tampering.
The affidavit submitted by authorities in support of the arrest warrant for Ward indicated that investigators had reached the conclusion that the individuals were not being truthful regarding the events that transpired. The document stated, “The evidence establishes that within 1509 Swann Street, Robert Wone was confined, rendered incapacitated, subjected to sexual assault, and ultimately killed.”
Additionally, it was noted that there was “compelling evidence surpassing the threshold of probable cause” pointing to Price, Zaborsky, and Ward engaging in actions of “obstructing justice by manipulating and arranging the crime scene, introducing false evidence, prolonging the reporting of the murder to law enforcement, and providing false information to the police concerning the actual circumstances surrounding the murder.”
Lawyers for the three accused men have called the affidavit “speculation, innuendo, assumptions, and irrelevant inflammatory comments” and maintain their clients’ innocence. Price and Zaborsky were domestic partners, and the affidavit alleges that Price had previously had a sexual relationship with Ward. Washington attorney Dale Sanders opined that the release of the extensively detailed affidavit was intended to turn one of the housemates, presumably Ward, against the others, and hypothesized that it indicated prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to charge any of the housemates with additional crimes without the cooperation of a witness.
Officials believe that a knife from the kitchen had been smeared with blood and placed near the body, while a duplicate of the knife that was missing from a set found in Ward’s bedroom would have been more consistent with the wounds to Wone’s body. The autopsy revealed evidence of some degree of suffocation, perhaps by a pillow, and puncture marks on his neck, chest, foot and hand. Though no toxins were found in his blood, a lack of evidence of struggle led investigators to suspect Wone had been injected with a paralytic agent.
Cadaver dogs hit on a dryer lint trap and the patio drain, which detectives believe may be evidence that someone washed themselves in the back patio area, and dried wet clothes in the dryer. Washington City Paper columnist Jason Cherkis reported unattributed criticism of the medical examiner’s failure to test for exotic drugs and to keep a sample of Wone’s blood for later testing, as well as detectives’ failure to follow up on a lint trap that had attracted a cadaver dog’s attention.
Price’s lawyer challenged the timing of the indictments, saying that a contemporaneous civil suit brought by Wone’s family “looked unseemly” and questioned whether the prosecutors and Wone family attorneys were acting in concert.
In April 2009, prosecutors disclosed that two emails had been drafted on Wone’s BlackBerry “at a time when prosecutors believed Wone dead.” An independent criminal law attorney noted, “The defense will argue that this is consistent with their claim that the murder happened quickly by an intruder and it was not a long, drawn-out effort to sexually assault Wone before he was killed, as the government is alleging.” Previously, a court filing indicated that the government intended to release a personal profile that Price allegedly used on ALT.com, “a sexually oriented web site specializing in S&M practices.”
Formal defense in the conspiracy case began on June 17, 2010, and concluded without any of the defendants testifying. On June 29, Judge Lynn Leibovitz found each of the three men not guilty of charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Leibovitz, in explaining her ruling for almost an hour from the bench, stated that she personally believed that the men knew who killed Wone, but was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the offenses with which they were charged.
On November 25, 2008, Wone’s widow initiated a wrongful death legal action against Price, Zaborsky, and Ward, primarily drawing from the police affidavit as its basis. The lawsuit contended that the defendants had been “negligent in their failure to provide assistance to Robert Wone following his injury, engaged in the destruction of evidence linked to Robert Wone’s murder, and conspired to eliminate evidence and obstruct the police inquiry into Robert Wone’s homicide.” This lawsuit was ultimately resolved on August 3, 2011, through an undisclosed settlement arrangement. Prior to his nomination as Attorney General, Holder offered legal guidance to Wone’s widow on a pro bono basis.
Wone’s death has proven to be one of the most mysterious homicide cases in Washington history. The Washington Examiner listed the Wone case, in light of the arrests, as one of eight top crime stories in D.C. for 2008. The Washington Blade stated that the case “has captured the interest of the gay community because it occurred inside the home of a prominent gay male couple”. A story aired by local station WTTG in March 2009 highlighted a website cataloging the investigative efforts of “four amateur sleuths who live in the neighborhood”.
Since Wone’s death, multiple organizations have established scholarships and other memorials in his name, including the Virginia Department of Social Services “Robert E. Wone Award for Exemplary Service;” the annual “Robert E. Wone Judicial Clerkship & Internship Conference,” which rotates among the D.C. area law schools, including the Georgetown University Law Center, the American University Washington College of Law, and the Howard University School of Law; a workroom at OCA headquarters; the “Robert E. Wone Fellowship” of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund; the “Robert E. Wone Scholarship” of OCA’s New Jersey Chapter; the “Robert E. Wone Memorial Trust,” administered by the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region; and the “Robert E. Wone Clinical Fellowship” at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, including a room in the law school’s Civil Practice Clinic. On October 22, 2011, family and friends gathered at Barksdale Field at the College of William & Mary to dedicate two benches and two Chinese pistache trees in Wone’s memory. The plaques on the benches read “Rest awhile and enjoy the wonderful world around you,” a reference to one of Wone’s favorite songs by Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World.”
A 2016 article in the Blade, authored by Lou Chibbaro Jr., disclosed through public records that Joseph Price and Dylan Ward had undergone name changes, adopting the names Joseph Anderson and Dylan Thomas, respectively. As indicated in the article, Price had been associated with Americans for Immigrant Justice, an immigrant advocacy group based in Miami, since 2013. Meanwhile, Ward transitioned into a massage practitioner and pilates instructor. Under his new name, Ward’s profile had been featured on the “Pure Pilates” studio website in Fort Lauderdale as recently as 2023. On the other hand, Zaborsky retained his original name and remained employed by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), a trade association representing the dairy and milk industry based in D.C. He had been with the organization since 1995, and his affiliation with it continued up until 2020. Property records during that time period indicated Price and Zaborsky owned a residence in Miami Shores, a suburb of Miami.
In 2023, a documentary titled “Who Killed Robert Wone?” was directed by Jared P. Scott for Peacock, delving deeper into the case. The documentary’s conclusion confirmed that Price and Zaborsky were still residing together in Florida, while Ward had entered into marriage.