Erik Prince Trumps Kathy Wone
>> Updated throughout; Additional Video
The good news: Judge Frederick Weisberg finally got around to setting a trial date in the matter of U.S. v. Price, Ward and Zaborsky. The not so good news: it’s a year away on May 10, 2010. Does anyone’s Outlook calender even go that far into the future?
Upon the announcement of the date, a noticeable gasp was heard from the section where Kathy Wone was sitting.
Both the government and defense teams agreed that the trial will last at least two months. The far off date is due in part to the remaining forensic testing that needs to be done on scores of pieces of evidence including the knife found at the crime scene. But the bigger hurdle appeared to be the February 2010 court date that defense attorneys David Schertler (Ward) and Thomas Connolly (Zaborsky) have on behalf of the Blackwater guards who are charged with multiple counts of manslaughter in Baghdad’s Nissor Square incident.
At the top of the hearing, a few minutes were devoted to resolving the 105 outstanding discovery issues. Since last month’s hearing both the government and defense have come to agreement on all of them.
An interesting dynamic we saw all afternoon was Thomas Connolly, Zaborsky’s counsel continually trying to separate Victor from his co-defendants. At one point during the discussion, Connolly talked of a phone call between him and the US Attorney’s office on the discovery agreement, but this appeared to be news to Bernie Grimm, Joe Price’s counsel.
Connolly admitted he had not shared the information with Grimm, calling it an oversight. Grimm seemed caught off guard. Bernie may have already checked out for the Memorial Day weekend because he did not appear to have brought his ‘A’ game today. This confusion led to a 10 minute break in the hearing that saw the defense teams leave the courtroom for a hallway huddle.
They came back in, Grimm chatted with an associate and they moved on to agreeing upon the language of the order which was sent to Weisberg for his review by close of business today. After the hearing the defense teams met at David Schertler’s office to bang out the text. Weisberg asked for it to be emailed to him and said that he’d be working until 6:30pm; an unusually late hour for anyone in DC on the Friday before a three day holiday weekend.
Much of today’s status hearing focused on forensic testing. Besides the knife, the bed sheet Robert Wone was found on has not been tested due to consumability issues of the small splatters of what appears to be blood adjacent to the larger blood stains found on it. The defense team acknowledged that the government should proceed with these tests.
Regarding the DNA issues of the Innocence Protection Act, Weisberg stated it did not apply to this case because the charges pending were of a non-violent nature. Weisberg makes his living by presiding over the most violent cases in DC. Did the defense team make a mistake thinking that conspiracy, obstruction and tampering charges constitute violent crimes?
We got the answer to an outstanding question regarding how much of Robert’s blood was saved after the autopsy: an almost negligible 3 or 4CCs. The remaining blood will be used to test for additional drugs. Both sides concurred that these tests would consume all of what remains.
The government and defense will agree upon the limited number of drugs that can be screened considering the small quantity, paralytics included. Weisberg suggested, “… and anything that ends in -caine.” Giggles filled the courtroom. Paralytic drugs, however, may not show because they are rapidly metabolized through the system.
Connolly may have tipped his hand by revealing what may be part of the defense strategy, adamantly and confidently stating that paralytic drugs were not involved in this matter.
Then the defense went to work on running out the clock and preventing a 2009 trial date. Connolly insisted the remaining forensic testing could take six weeks. Grimm one-upped him by telling Weisberg that he’d personally met with forensic scientists and ventured testing wouldn’t be complete for 12 weeks.
At that point, Weisberg toyed with the idea of setting a trial date for November or December giving many in the courtroom a whiff of optimism. No dice. Hopes were dashed when Connolly played his Blackwater card, “… a late January start date (for the guards)… 40-50 witnesses coming in from Baghdad…. time in between needed for preparation (to defend Zaborsky)…”
Thomas Connolly made one last stab at getting a favorable ruling on the outstanding Bill of Particulars. Weisberg sniffed at the request having previously indicated he wasn’t inclined and told Connolly, “You have one minute to convince me…. You won’t change my mind.” Connolly again tried to make his case on the government’s weakness in lacking specifics on the overt acts of conspiracy stated in the indictment.
Connolly mentioned the possibility of double jeopardy down the line but Weisberg denied the request and said that it’s unlikely there will be a second attempt to try them, at least on these same issues.
All sides for the most part will take the summer off. The next date on the calendar is another status hearing on September 11. Make of that what you will.
Arriving a half hour before the scheduled start time found a locked courtroom door and supporters of the defendants seated nearby. Next on the scene was the casually-dressed younger brother of Joe Price, Michael. Louis Hinton arrived a few minutes later to join that gaggle. Whether they are still a couple or not, we don’t know, but they neither arrived together nor sat together for the hearing. Joining them were a small handful of elderly supporters and all seemed to chat amiably as if at a family gathering.
Seated about 25 feet away was Kathy Wone and some of her supporters, her attorney in the civil suit Ben Razi and some of his colleagues from Covington. AUSA Glenn Kirschner came in with his colleague Pat Martin and greeted Kathy with a warm embrace.
The defense attorneys showed 10 minutes later without their clients in tow. The hallway was filling up by the time the three defendants breezed in. Broad smiles and big hugs were exchanged by all. And then it was down to business.
Joe and his counsel Bernie Grimm sequestered themselves on a bench away from the larger group. As Bernie sat, Joe stood over him closely appearing to be giving instructions and gesturing his points. Bernie was fervently writing notes during the exchange looking like a stenographer taking dictation from his boss. Might Joe be subbing for Bernie on Greta’s show anytime soon?
Joe then moved across the hallway to Robert Spagnoletti, Ward’s counsel, and gave him the drill. Is this how the out-of-work Joe Price keeps the legal bills to a minimum by being an active participant on the defense team? Is he guiding his own defense, that of his domestic partner Victor, and that of his S&M dom partner Dylan?
Media waiting outside room 318 included the Legal Times power team of Mike Scarcella and Joe Palazzolo; MetroWeekly was represented by ace reporter Yusef Najafi.
The doors opened and all filed in and the 50 seats were quickly claimed. Weisberg got things under way and appeared in good spirits throughout. A number of times his remarks elicited chuckles and noticeable laughs from the audience. His more humorous line was when he admonished Thomas Connolly on his claim that the defense needed experts to analyze and report on the findings of yet another team of experts.
The defendants were all dressed in charcoal gray. Perhaps Connolly’s efforts to distance Victor from Joe and Dylan was played out in the seating arrangements too. Seated from left to right it was Joe, Dylan, Dylan’s counsel David Schertler and on the outside, Victor.
Then the musical chairs began. Each time Schertler rose to speak, Victor slid over to a spot to sit next to and talk to Joe and Dylan. And each time Scherlter returned, Victor would move away from his roommates returning to his original seat. Unlike last month’s hearing in which Schertler handled the chores on behalf of Ward, his partner Robert Spagnoletti did most of the talking today.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Kirschner and Martin exited the courthouse.
The defense teams left without their clients, unlike the April 24 hearing. The defendants exited through a side door and were not seen leaving the Moultrie Courthouse.
Michael Price leaving the courthouse.
Media coverage so far: Mike Scarcella out of the gate quickly filing this.