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Sometime on the night of Aug. 2 last year, someone walked into the second-floor guest bedroom of 1509 Swann St. N.W. and plunged a kitchen knife deep into the chest of 32-year old Washington lawyer Robert Wone. That much police know. But a year after the murder, the case remains unsolved. Why? The answer involves bureaucratic delays, rotating prosecutors, and a trio of potential suspects, who quickly lawyered up. Police have made no arrests in the case � or even established any clear motives � and investigators are still waiting for the FBI to return portions of the evidence that was taken from the $1.2 million town house. In a sense, it resembled a classic closed-room mystery. Three other people were present in the row house when Wone was murdered. Yet D.C. police so far appear stymied in the yearlong investigation. No one is yet willing to call it a cold case, but the lack of progress is taking its toll on those involved, especially Wone’s friends and family. “I have had moments of discouragement throughout the year, but my hope has for the most part remained steadfast,” writes Kathy Wone, who was Robert Wone’s wife of three years when he was killed, in an e-mail. The two lived together in Oakton, Va., but Wone was working late in the city on the night he was murdered and had decided to stay in town with a friend, D.C. lawyer Joseph Price, whom he had met as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. “As the one-year mark of Robert’s death approaches, I feel Robert’s absence as I do every day, but more importantly, I find myself peacefully settling into a place where I am reassured that everything will in fact be OK, that my life still has so much good in store for me and my loved ones,” Kathy Wone writes. SUSPECTS, EVIDENCE, NO ARRESTS Wone, who worked as general counsel for Radio Free Asia, died shortly before midnight in the Dupont Circle town house co-owned by Price and his domestic partner, Victor Zaborsky. Price, a partner at Arent Fox, and Zaborsky, a marketing manager at the International Dairy Foods Association, were both home when Wone was attacked. The couple’s housemate, Dylan Ward, was also in the house. A tenant, who lived in a basement apartment, was out for the night. Police found no signs of forced entry and nothing missing from the house. They did find the murder weapon � a butcher knife taken from Price and Zaborsky’s kitchen set. In addition, in an Aug. 4, 2006, affidavit for a warrant to search Price’s office, a detective wrote that he believed the crime scene had been tampered with. Police said a resident told them in interviews that an intruder entered through the back door, but early on it was clear the investigation would focus on the housemates. In addition to searching Price’s office, police examined phone records, enlisted the help of the FBI, and held the house for more than three weeks, looking for traces of blood and other evidence. Price, Zaborsky, and Ward responded by hiring prominent attorneys � a move that D.C. detectives have frequently labeled obstructionist. “Everybody we’d been able to talk to now has a lawyer, so there hasn’t been a lot of keeping in contact,” says Capt. C.V. Morris, head of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s violent crime section. “That’s the card we were dealt. There’s no reason to try [to contact] them at this point.” The case is still assigned one sergeant and eight detectives on an as-needed basis. The bulk of the work is left to the lead detective and one assisting detective. In November 2006, police did arrest a man named Phelps Collins, a friend of Joseph Price’s brother, Michael, and charged him with breaking into the still-vacant Dupont Circle house to steal some high-end electronics. Michael Price was also arrested several weeks later in a stolen car, in which police found some of the electronics stolen from his brother’s house, according the court documents. Michael Price’s case is pending indictment, but neither he nor Collins has so far been implicated in Wone’s murder. Calls to Price were not returned. Joseph Price remains at work at Arent Fox, where he handles litigation and intellectual property. He has been represented by Kathleen Voelker, a former Arent Fox partner now running a solo practice. Ward hired David Schertler, former chief of the homicide section of the District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Thomas Connolly of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, a former prosecutor in the District and Virginia, is representing Zaborsky. The three men declined to comment, referring matters to their attorneys. According to the defense attorneys, the three men have never given police cause to suspect them in Wone’s murder. They submitted to hours of videotaped interviews and volunteered DNA samples and fingerprints before being asked to supply them, says Connolly. Police later requested hair samples, and the men submitted them without protest, Connolly adds. None of the three has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Police have received an FBI report on the first batch of evidence investigators collected from the town house, Morris says. He would not comment on its contents, saying only that the remainder of the evidence was on its way to being processed. Connolly and the other lawyers say they are unconcerned. “They have told the police everything they know about what happened the night of Aug. 2, 2006. They still hold out hope that the police will apprehend the intruder who murdered their friend,” says Connolly. Kathy Wone is represented by Eric Holder Jr., a former deputy attorney general, and Benjamin Razi, both of Covington & Burling, where Robert Wone worked for six years before shifting to Radio Free Asia in 2006. “I recall one time when I apologized for taking up their time and Mr. Holder looked at me as if I had two heads,” she writes. Holder and Razi have been her attorneys ever since. She is unwilling to discuss Ward, Price, or Zaborsky or her relationship to the men � “I have had no contact with Joe, Victor or Dylan since they hired lawyers in the days after Robert’s murder” � but her attorneys are clearly supportive of the police department’s belief that the roommates are holding back. “Robert’s friends and family continue to mourn his tragic passing one year ago. We simply refuse to believe that this terrible crime will go unsolved. Robert was killed in a house occupied by multiple people. It simply cannot be that nobody knows what happened,” Razi says. Razi and Holder have invited a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to an Aug. 6 press conference at the offices of Covington & Burling with several of Wone’s family members and friends to discuss the investigation. “I hope that the passion of this group will get the city’s attention and motivate people to action,” Razi says. A LAW SCHOOL HYPOTHETICAL One issue with the investigation is its vagabond status in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Three times now the case has been transferred. It was originally handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Covell. When she went on leave, Thomas “Tad” DiBiase, a deputy chief of the office’s homicide division, took it over. Then DiBiase resigned abruptly in April, and the case circled back to Covell, who recently transferred out of homicide to the national security division. Both declined to comment on the case. Now, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Feitel has taken it over, according to Channing Phillips, the principal associate U.S. attorney. Phillips declined to comment on the investigation, other than saying, “[Feitel] is working with MPD, which continues to actively work the investigation.” But perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Wone case is the natural tendency to assume that its resolution would be swift. After all, the identities of at least three men present in the house when Wone was killed have been known to police from the very start. But some observers say that view is too simplistic, considering the circumstances. Cliff Keenan, deputy director of the Pretrial Services Agency and former head of the Superior Court division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, says the case recalls a lesson he gives to law students: “If a police officer hears a shot inside a room and goes in and sees a dead body on the floor and a smoking gun on the table and three persons pointing a finger at each other and not saying a word, the police officer would likely be able to articulate probable cause and arrest all three.” In court, though, without additional evidence, the case would founder, Keenan says. “In my hypothetical, you’d never be able to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a case that may actually result in someone getting away with murder.”
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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