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Murder of Robert Eric Wone

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Robert Eric Wone
Born(1974-06-01)June 1, 1974
Died (aged 32)
Cause of deathSexual assault, stabbing
EmployerRadio Free Asia

Robert Eric Wone was murdered in Washington, D.C., in August 2006 in the home of a college friend, Joe Price. Wone, who was 32 years old at the time, was a lawyer living in suburban Oakton, Virginia, but had been working as general counsel at Radio Free Asia in downtown Washington, D.C. He had stayed the night at the home of friends located about one mile from his office. According to police affidavits, Wone was believed to have been "restrained, incapacitated, and sexually assaulted" before his death. The residents of the home – Joe Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward – contended that the murder was committed by an intruder unknown to them; the trial judge found this unbelievable.[1]

Within days of the murder, D.C. police alleged that the crime scene had been tampered with, but no charges were filed for over two years. In late 2008, police charged Price, Zaborsky, and Ward with obstruction of justice and conspiracy related to alleged tampering with the crime scene. The men were acquitted of the charges in June 2010. No one has been charged with Wone's killing. In November 2008, Wone's widow, Katherine Wone, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Price, Zaborsky, and Ward; the suit was settled on August 3, 2011, for an undisclosed sum and agreement.


Late on August 2, 2006, Robert Eric Wone was fatally stabbed while staying overnight at a Swann Street, NW rowhouse in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., owned by Joseph Price (aka Joseph Anderson)[2] and his domestic partner Victor Zaborsky,[3] where they lived with Dylan Ward (aka Dylan Thomas)[4] in a polyamorous relationship as a family.[5] Wone had gone to Price's residence at approximately 10:30 PM after working late, as had been arranged days before.[6] Neighbors reported hearing a scream, later identified as Zaborsky's, during the 11:00 PM newscast (i.e., before 11:35 PM).[6] Zaborsky made a 9-1-1 call at 11:49 PM, and paramedics arrived five minutes later, followed by the police.[6] Price phoned Wone's wife, and Wone was pronounced dead at George Washington University Hospital at 12:24 AM on August 3.[6]

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.[7] They denied any involvement in the death and speculated that an intruder had killed Wone.[6] The three also denied any sexual relationship with Wone,[8] and Wone's family have described him as both "straight and happily married".[9] All three men attended Wone's funeral, where Price served as a pallbearer.[6] Eric Holder, who at that time worked at Covington & Burling, called Wone "a kind and gentle man" who was "killed in the most horrible of ways".[8]


The house where Wone was murdered at 1509 Swann St NW

Paramedics responding to the emergency call "found the three residents’ calm behavior unusual; none were screaming or even helping direct the paramedics".[8] According to Ward's attorney, detectives who interrogated the three housemates on the night of the murder informed them that they were the main suspects in the case, and asked many sexually charged, accusatory questions.[10] Three days after the murder, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the D.C. police were called in, but unit head Sgt. Brett Parson declined to discuss the unit's involvement.[11] Within two weeks of the murder, police publicly alleged that the crime scene had been tampered with.[12] Investigators spent more than three weeks examining the townhouse in detail, "removing flooring, pieces of walls, a chunk of staircase, the washing machine, even sink traps".[6] Allegations that the area around Wone's body had been cleaned were revealed in an affidavit in support of a search warrant for homeowner Joseph Price's offices at the D.C. law firm of Arent Fox.[12]


Three months after Wone's death, Price's brother and an accomplice burgled the Swann Street residence; they took more than $7,000 of electronic equipment.[13][14] Two individuals, including Price's brother,[15] were charged with the burglary, but those charges were later dropped.[14] In 2007, D.C. police revealed that they had been preparing to make an arrest in the Wone murder case in 2006, but that the burglary had derailed those plans.[14] Police have not revealed the name of the arrest target, nor the charge(s) that would have been filed.[14]

Lack of progress[edit]

In August 2007, The Washington Post reported the frustration of Wone's widow, Katherine Wone, with the FBI crime lab: "It has been trying at times as we continue to wait for the FBI to complete their analysis of all the samples that were taken."[13] Over one year, the case had been transferred to three separate prosecutors, earning it "vagabond status" in the U.S. Attorneys' office.[15] On the one-year anniversary of Wone's death, Katherine Wone held a press conference to appeal for public assistance in finding the killer, her first public comment on the case.[13][16] During the press conference, Holder publicly pleaded with the three residents to provide additional information, saying "You need to ask yourself, 'Have I provided police with all the information I know?'"[16][17] Interested parties, such as the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), used the first anniversary of Wone's death to criticize what they deemed police inaction in the investigation.[18] In contrast to the first anniversary of Wone's murder, there was no press conference on the second anniversary, and neither the Wone family nor police made any statements to the press.[14]

Arrests and charges[edit]

An obstruction of justice charge was filed in October 2008 against housemate Dylan Ward, who had since moved to Miami-Dade County, Florida, and was living in a home owned by Price.[19] In November 2008, Price and Zaborsky were arrested and also charged with obstruction of justice.[9] All three men were later released pending trial, but subject to electronic monitoring and curfews.[9] On December 19, 2008, additional charges of conspiracy were filed against all three men.[20] During the same hearing, the electronic monitoring and curfew restrictions for the three defendants were ended and prosecutors announced the possibility that charges related to tampering with evidence could be filed in the future.[20][21]

The affidavit filed by authorities supporting the arrest warrant for Ward showed that investigators had concluded the men were not telling the truth about what happened. The report states "The evidence demonstrates that Robert Wone was restrained, incapacitated, sexually assaulted, and murdered inside 1509 Swann Street",[19] and there exists "overwhelming evidence, far in excess of probable cause" that Price, Zaborsky, and Ward "obstructed justice by altering and orchestrating the crime scene, planting evidence, delaying the reporting of the murder to the authorities, and lying to the police about the true circumstances of the murder".[22] Lawyers for the three accused men have called the affidavit "speculation, innuendo, assumptions, and irrelevant inflammatory comments" and maintain their clients' innocence.[9] Price and Zaborsky were domestic partners,[14] and the affidavit alleges that Price had previously had a sexual relationship with Ward.[19] 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.[19]

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 found a blood residue in 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.[23] 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.[24] Price's lawyer has challenged the timing of the indictments, has said that the civil suit "looked unseemly", and questioned whether the prosecutors and Wone family attorneys were acting in concert.[25]

In April 2009, prosecutors disclosed that two emails had been drafted on Wone's BlackBerry "at a time when prosecutors believed Wone dead".[26] 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."[26] Previously, a court filing indicated that the government intended to release a personal profile that Price allegedly used on, "a sexually oriented web site specializing in S&M practices".[26]

Formal defense in the conspiracy case began on June 17, 2010, and concluded without any of the defendants testifying.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz found each of the three men not guilty of charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and tampering with evidence on June 29, 2010.[5] 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.[5]

Civil lawsuit[edit]

On November 25, 2008, Wone's widow Katherine filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the three men, largely based on the police affidavit. The lawsuit alleged "defendants' negligent failure to rescue Robert Wone after he was injured, defendants' destruction of evidence of Robert Wone's murder, and defendants' conspiracy to destroy evidence and obstruct the police investigation into Robert Wone's murder".[9] The suit was settled August 3, 2011, for an undisclosed sum and agreement.[27] Prior to his nomination as United States Attorney General, Eric Holder advised Wone's widow on a pro bono basis.[6][28]


Wone's death has proven to be one of Washington, D.C.'s most mysterious homicide cases.[29][30] Washington Examiner listed the Wone case, in light of the arrests, as one of eight top crime stories in D.C. for 2008.[31] 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".[14] In March 2009, a story on the crime highlighted a website cataloging the investigative efforts of "four amateur sleuths who live in the neighborhood".[32]

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;"[33] the annual "Robert E. Wone Judicial Clerkship & Internship Conference," which rotates among the D.C. area law schools, including Georgetown University Law Center, American University Washington College of Law, and Howard University School of Law; a workroom at OCA headquarters;[34] the "Robert E. Wone Fellowship" of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund;[35] 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."


Robert Eric Wone (June 1, 1974 – August 3, 2006) was 32 years old when he was killed. He was a fourth generation Chinese American, born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, New York.[8] After graduating from Xaverian High School as Valedictorian of his class, he attended the College of William & Mary as a James Monroe Scholar. There, Wone met Joseph Price, then a senior, in the 1992–93 academic year.[8] Wone and Price shared several activities, including an honor society and student government leadership positions, before Price graduated in 1993.[36] In September 1993, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an opinion piece co-written by Wone, criticizing a prior Times-Dispatch article on William & Mary faculty.[37] Wone graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1996, and then received his law degree with honors from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1999.[38] He subsequently served as law clerk to Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.[39] 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 law firm,[40] Wone served as general counsel for the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA).[18] On June 7, 2003, Wone married Katherine Ellen Yu, and the couple lived in Fairfax County.[39] 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.[41] Wone was very active within the Asian American community, supporting organizations such as OCA and the Museum of Chinese in America.[8] At the time of his death, he was president-elect of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leibovitz, Lynn (2010-06-29). "United States v. Joseph R. Price, Victor J. Zaborsky, and Dylan M. Ward" (PDF). Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
  2. ^ AI Justice (Winter 2013). "AIJustice Newsletter". Americans for Immigrant Justice. Retrieved 2015-04-22.
  3. ^ Peterson, Karen S. (2004-03-09). "Looking Straight at Gay Parents". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  4. ^ "Welcome Pilates Instructor & Massage Practitioner (LMP) Dylan Thomas". Seattle Athletic Club. Archived from the original on 2016-03-11. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  5. ^ a b c Alexander, Keith L. (2019-06-29). "Judge rules not guilty in Wone case". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Schwartzman, Paul (2006-10-09). "A New Glimpse Into Night of D.C. Slaying". The Washington Post. p. B01. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  7. ^ Babay, Emily (2010-06-21). "Wone conspiracy trial could wrap up this week". Washington Examiner. Archived from the original on 2019-09-02. Retrieved 2010-06-21.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Tseng, Judy (2008-12-16). "Break in D.C. Lawyer Murder Case". Asian Week. Archived from the original on 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  9. ^ a b c d e Chibbaro Jr., Lou (2008-12-05). "Gay Defendants Blast officials in Wone Case: Police Accused of Spreading 'Inflammatory Comments'". Washington Blade. Archived from the original on 2008-12-07. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  10. ^ "A third not-guilty plea in D.C. lawyer death". WTOP-FM. 2008-11-25. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  11. ^ Cook, Gretchen (2006-10-10). "Murder in D.C.". The Advocate. p. 39.
  12. ^ a b Klein, Allison; Cauvin, Henri E. (2006-08-16). "Police Say Crime Scene Was Altered in NW Killing". The Washington Post. p. B.1. ProQuest 410039969. (Registration required)
  13. ^ a b c Klein, Allison (2007-08-05). "Year Later, Lawyer's Slaying Still Shrouded in Mystery". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Chibbaro Jr., Lou (2008-08-01). "Wone murder remains unsolved 2 years later". Washington Blade. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  15. ^ a b Palazzolo, Joe (2007-08-09). "A Year Later, Police Still Don't Know Who Killed D.C. Lawyer". Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  16. ^ a b McCabe, Scott (2007-08-07). "Wone's wife pleads for killer to reveal himself". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2019-09-02.
  17. ^ Klein, Allison (2007-08-06). "Lawyer's Wife Pleads for Killer to Step Forward". The Washington Post. p. B04. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
  18. ^ a b Chu, Hope (2007-08-02). "OCA Remembers General Counsel Robert Wone, Questions Investigation Inactivity". Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  19. ^ a b c d Chibbaro Jr., Lou (2008-10-20). "Police say Wone was drugged, sexually assaulted before murder". Washington Blade. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  20. ^ a b "New Charges Filed in Death of D.C. Attorney". WTTG. 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2009-01-01.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Neil, Martha (2008-12-22). "Prosecutor Seeks More Charges in Case of Murdered D.C. Area Attorney". ABA Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-02.
  22. ^ Palazzolo, Joe; Scarcella, Mike (2008-11-03). "Arrest Made in Murder of Washington Lawyer". Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  23. ^ "'Obstruction' Affidavit Exposes Secrets of D.C. Murder Mystery". WJLA-TV. 2008-10-31. Archived from the original on 2009-06-05. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  24. ^ Cherkis, Jason (2008-12-09). "Robert Wone Case: Two Possible Gaps in Police Work". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  25. ^ Forsyth, Jennifer (2008-11-26). "Family of Slain Lawyer Robert Wone Sues, Alleging Cover-up". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  26. ^ a b c Chibbaro Jr., Lou (2009-05-01). "Missing e-Mails at Issue in Wone Murder: Timing of Deleted Messages Could Have Aided Defense: Attorneys". Washington Blade. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  27. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (2011-08-06). "Wone family settles $20 million lawsuit against three former D.C. roommates". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  28. ^ "Questionnaire for Eric Holder, Jr., Attorney General Nominee" (PDF). United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-14. Retrieved 2009-01-03. (Section 26, near end of document)
  29. ^ a b Duggan, Paul; Williams, Clarence (2008-11-01). "Cover-Up Alleged in D.C. Killing Of Lawyer". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  30. ^ "Radio Free Asia Counsel Robert Eric Wone, 32". The Washington Post. 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  31. ^ McCabe, Scott (2008-12-31). "Top D.C. crime stories of 2008". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2009-01-01.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ Chavez, Roby (2009-03-12). "Who Murdered Robert Wone? New Website Explores Evidence, Theories". WTTG. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  33. ^ "AmeriCorps Members Pledge Year of Service at VCU Ceremony". Virginia Department of Social Services. 2007-10-24. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  34. ^ "OCA and Robert Wone" (PDF). Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area, Inc. 2008. pp. 4–5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  35. ^ "Fourth Annual Benefit Dinner" (PDF). Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund. 2007-03-20. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  36. ^ Hilder, Miles (2008-11-21). "Details of alum's murder released". The Flat Hat. Archived from the original on 2011-07-11. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  37. ^ Goddard, Lisa; Wone, Robert (1993-09-30). "The Media Have Maligned Professors". Richmond Times Dispatch. p. A17. ProQuest 423510384. (Registration required)
  38. ^ Heintz, Francesca (2006-08-31). "Profs Shocked by Brutal Killing of Law Alumnus". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2009-01-02.[permanent dead link]
  39. ^ a b "Weddings/Celebrations; Katherine Yu, Robert Wone". The New York Times. 2003-06-08. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  40. ^ "Covington & Burling Diversity Update" (PDF). Covington & Burling. Winter 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-02-05. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  41. ^ Petkofsky, Andrew (2006-08-05). "Slain Lawyer a Friend to Many". Richmond Times Dispatch. p. B.6. ProQuest 423944518. (Registration required)

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