Questions for Chief Lanier About The Investigation
As weeks pass here at WMRW, we seem to amass more questions than answers. About the circumstances of Robert’s murder, its prosecution, and the principle and secondary players involved. Frustrating as it is, this seems natural in a complex case such as this.
Unfortunately there’s also a growing list of questions surrounding the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s investigative and forensics work. A few of them were spelled out in Sunday’s Washington Post op-ed, but there are many more.
It’s always a challenge to hold public officials accountable for their actions and potential missteps. Fortunately, residents of D.C. have recourse. And it’s as close as their radios.
The first Thursday of each month, MPD Chief of Police Cathy Lanier has been taking questions from listeners on WTOP’s “Ask the Chief” program airing at 10 a.m. Although not yet set in stone, we expect Chief Lanier next week will again be fielding questions from callers. This seems a perfect opportunity for all those interested to get the Chief on the record with regard to the Wone investigation and forensics flubs.
Questions can be phoned in live during the program or submitted in advance by email. Either way, we encourage readers here to take the Chief up on her offer to answer the serious questions they have about crime and punishment in the District.
Among our issues and questions for Chief Lanier:
#1: The MPD standard operating procedure for recording interviews with witnesses and potential suspects. All three Swann Street housemates voluntarily agreed to extensitve questioning by police the night of the murder. However in two out of three instances (Joe Price and Dylan Ward) authorities failed to roll video or audio recording of the first portion of their questioning. A 66% failure rate seems unusually poor. Chief Lanier, what is MPD procedure for ensuring these sessions are recorded, and how often are these procedures not fully followed? Also, did the MPD collect a hand-written diagram and list from Joe Price during questioning, and if so, where is it?
#2: The standard operating procedure for using Ashley’s Reagent. As we learned this Spring, police teams applied Ashley’s Reagent to various surfaces at 1509 Swann in order to detect blood or other biological trace evidence.
However AUSA Glen Kirschner on Feb. 9, 2009, wrote to defense counsel to inform them “…it has been determined that the Ashley’s Reagent was used in a manner not intended by the manufacturer of that product.” Chief Lanier, how are MPD investigators trained for the use of Ashley’s Reagent, and what is the failure rate for its use by MPD officials? A follow-up: how often have errors like this resulted in potential evidence being ruled inadmissable in court?
#3: Office of Medical Examiner’s procedures while conducting investigations. In last year’s affidavit supporting the first indictment of Dylan Ward, D.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Lois Goslinoski “…opined that, taking all evidence and circumstances into consideration, this finding is suggestive of Mr. Wone having been sexually assaulted.”
She also documented more than six puncture wounds at various sites on Mr. Wone and conducted the “standard toxicology tests” for drugs. However as the affidavit spells out:
“However, there are various incapacitating or paralytic drugs for which no tests were run as there was no early indication – in the light of the statements that Price, Zaborsky and Ward gave to the police – that Mr. Wone may have been injected with any such drugs while at the Swann Street residence.”
So there was evidence of deeper misdeeds than a stabbing, but because of statements by potential suspects no tests were run to learn the true state of affairs? Chief Lanier, is it customary for medical examinations to be directed at least in part by statements of witnesses or potential suspects, rather than the M.E.’s own findings?
A follow-up: is it S.O.P. for only 3cc’s of blood of the victim to be saved in murder cases, and if not, why was such a small amount saved in this case? Are those 3cc’s needed for comparison tests to other seized items that may be spotted with the victim’s blood? Isn’t Mr. Wone’s DNA kept on record, or do new tests on limited supplies of blood evidence need to be conducted with each new piece of evidence?
#4: Evidence transfer and storage procedures. One of the more puzzling missteps involved Robert’s BlackBerry. An MPD investigator onsite reported finding two unsent draft messages in the BlackBerry; it was then handed over to the U.S. Secret Service for imaging. Not only was the BlackBerry not imaged, but at the request of family it was turned back to Kathy Wone, who later turned it back to Radio Free Asia officials. That BlackBerry is now said to be in the RFA BlackBerry pool, and unretrievable.
Chief Lanier, why was the Secret Service asked to image the BlackBerry? Is it S.O.P. for police officials to return evidence at the request of family? Why did no-one notice it wasn’t imaged before being releaseed? Why was the BlackBerry not immediately dusted for fingerprints or other trace evidence? And a follow-up: how much of the evidence in this case is at the Evidence Control Branch warehouse, which the MPD’s own Office of Inspector General has long rebuked as insufficient, inadequate, and rife for the contamination of evidence – if it can even be found?
#5: Reward amounts and classification as “unsolved case.” The MPD has offered a $25,000 reward “…for a tip leading to the arrest and conviction of Robert Wone’s killer.” Fair enough. But a quick search through the MPD unsolved homicide database shows that reward amounts vary greatly, from $10,000 to $50,000 and higher. In earlier discussions with MPD officials we learned that there are a variety of factors to go into setting reward amounts, including “…advice from the chief of police and the perceived ‘usefullness’ of the reward.”
Moreover, Robert’s murder still has not made it to the official list of unsolved homicides. Chief Lanier, what advice have you and can you offer with regard to a reward for finding Robert Wone’s killer? And on what basis do you still not classify his murder as unsolved?
These are only a few of many questions. We hope to learn answers to at least some of them. No doubt sharp readers have their own.
We encourage you to share your questions here, and to take advantage of the opportunity to pose at least a few of them to Chief of Police Lanier next week. We’ll keep you adivsed as soon as we learn her schedule date.
–posted by Doug