Standard Operating Procedure

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.

"Go ahead caller..."

"Go ahead caller..."

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

27 comments for “Standard Operating Procedure

  1. CDinDC
    07/27/2009 at 2:29 PM

    Wow. Thorough, guy. Very, very thorough.

    WTOP streams live, so I’ll tune in on Thursday.

  2. CDinDC
    07/27/2009 at 2:59 PM

    I do have a question……re ashley’s reagent. Apparently, it is not as widely used as some more widely known reagents (Blu-Star, Luminol).

    From my research, Ashley’s Reagent is a premixed water based blood enhancement reagent. It was developed as a “safe and reliable alternative” to Amido /Methanol. It was found to “have excellent enhancement qualities almost equal to results obtained by an Amido/Methanol solution.”

    So…how WAS it used? How is it supposed to be used? And who determined that it was used incorrectly?

    • jeff
      07/27/2009 at 4:57 PM

      Even though she wasn’t the chief when robert was murdered she still has to explain if these problems have been fixed

  3. former crackho
    07/27/2009 at 3:03 PM

    My question is what could Joe Price possibly have on the lead investigators in this case? Was brother Michael their crystal dealer? Its really the only logical explainantion for so many screw ups. I’m sure the gay mafia is playing a big role in this as well. 😉

    • Clio
      07/27/2009 at 8:14 PM

      FCH, I hesitate to ask, but: What is “the gay mafia?”

    • Nora
      07/28/2009 at 7:11 AM

      The errors are just ridiculous, aren’t they? Reminds me of the Chandra Levy “investigation” where they accidentally erased her computer’s webpage history and “misheard” the order of how wide a sweep to do in Rock Creek Park. If they had managed to follow simple procedure they probably would have solved the crime in 2001.

      The conspiracy theories are hilarious – as though no one can believe “professionals” could really be so incompetent.

    • Clio
      07/27/2009 at 8:17 PM

      This is great publicity, making the Wone story more than just an inside-the-Beltway one.

  4. Clio
    07/30/2009 at 9:35 PM

    I think that $25,000 may appeal to Phelps and Michael, but apparently dropping the “burglary” charges yielded little information (that is publicly available) in exchange.

    I also believe that $25,000 will never move Victor or Dylan to do the right thing; their Price may be higher than the “North by NE” crowd.

  5. Robert
    08/03/2009 at 5:21 AM

    Though I do not know why Ashley’s Reagent was
    the blood detection treatment of choice, my
    recollection is that the FBI forensic team
    determined that AR was misapplied.

    Personally, I could almost see a controlled Price
    going to his grave (sorry): never admitting to his
    culpability in this crime (like Leopold & Loeb).

    I could also also see a conspiratorial Ward not
    admitting to his culpability until drug abuse
    rehabilitated in prison sometime in future.

    I think that Zaborsky is weak link who may sing
    when he realizes that freedom’s bells will not for
    him or any of the other conspirators doth ring.

    Though it may have been for Victor’s advantage to
    make deal at earlier point in time, his failure for
    taking deal does not end his opportunity.

    Victor may turn over (so to speak) in his usual
    fashion when he realizes: 1) that he will spend 38
    years in prison on current charges; 2) that Joseph
    and he will not spend their lives together; 3) that
    Dylan is a psychopath who need to be locked up.

    • Bea
      08/03/2009 at 1:47 PM

      I’d like to add that Victor’s sense of morality may differ than the others, and that if he were to “sing” then, to me, this is an act of honor, not something he should be ‘chided’ about. Better late than never, and I for one would congratulate him for doing the right thing.

  6. Robert
    08/03/2009 at 2:03 PM

    Have to admit that I know nothing about morality
    of the residents in Swann Street household. But I
    do not regard taking a deal to save one’s own skin
    as an act of honor. Even confessing out of guilty
    conscience is not an act of honor. Were Zaborsky
    to do the right thing for sake of “doing the right
    thing” that might be characterized as honorable.

    In any case, my intent was not to “chide” Victor,
    but merely to point out the predicament in which
    he might find himself thus leading to a less than
    honorable confession regarding his participation
    or that of the acts with his beloved housemates.

    • Bea
      08/03/2009 at 3:48 PM

      We can agree to disagree. I would be grateful if Victor stepped forward now with the whole truth – even if he got a lighter/no sentence (depending on how complicit he was). I’d rather see one/two murder convictions than three conspiracy convictions, especially when one tosses in getting “the whole truth” that Victor would necessarily provide. I don’t know how despicable his acts may have been (though it’s no secret here that I personally believe he was not present/asleep during the actual murder) but if he stepped forward, there is honor in that. It wouldn’t be to “save his own skin” nearly by definition. My guess is that if Joe hadn’t been pressuring/threatening/love-noosing him from the get-go, he’d have told the truth long ago.

  7. Robert
    08/03/2009 at 4:04 PM

    Like yourself, I would be happy for two murder
    convictions rather than none at all or three
    tampering, obstruction, conspiracy.

    If Victor was either not present or asleep as you
    believe, then he may not be in position to provide
    the “whole truth” that others, you or I may seek.

    I agree that we will have to “agree to disagree”
    about whether Zaborsky coming forward is
    honorable regardless of the reason.

    I am not convinced that Zaborsky’s unwillingness
    to attest is all about Price’s pressuring and/or
    threatening Zaborsky. I believe that Victor’s
    greater love for Joseph is sufficient.

    I guess we will also have to “agree to disagree”
    about Victor’s morals being that much higher than
    Joseph’s or Dylan’s. The fact that Zaborsky did
    not participate in this crime does not give us sum
    total of the morality with which he has led his life.

    • NYer
      08/03/2009 at 4:38 PM

      Obviously, if they’re guilty, they should have to face murder charges. But still, practically speaking, if they were to serve a full 30-year jail sentence for the obstruction charges levied against them, that’s quite a long time. (This duration would be a longer period than what some convicted murderers have served!) As Price’s own “fundraising” plea intimates, a potential 30-year sentence is to be taken very seriously.

      • CDinDC
        08/03/2009 at 5:04 PM

        I wonder if they have Thomas Pink prison uniforms.

    • Bea
      08/03/2009 at 5:26 PM

      Just a clarification – correct that if Victor was asleep for the most horrific part, he couldn’t testify to having witnessed that. But it’s a slam dunk murder conviction if he wakes up to “noises” and sees/hears Joe telling Dylan to go down for the kitchen knife, hears Joe wake Sarah to take the murder weapon and bloody towels/sheets to a dumpster, and tells Victor what he “needs” to say on 911 call and to lie that he (Joe) was next to him. If Victor testifies that Joe begged him to go along with it “because it just went all wrong” and “the next thing they knew Robert was dead” – and they stabbed him. Before you say “hearsay” recall that that’s an oft-used TV show expression (if you’re a lawyer, apologies – for so many reasons:)) but he’d be able to testify as to everything he saw, and almost everything he heard (even with the marital privilege since likely it was overheard by Dylan and/or others).

      I appreciate your opinion, but think that what Victor DID (granted, my opinion only) versus what the murderers did, and him feeling compromised and likely “guilty” for having gone so long, and not wanting “to sell out” the love of his life, I would still respect Victor greatly for taking the step in coming forward.

      • Robert
        08/03/2009 at 6:23 PM

        You may recall I am a lawyer (both prosecutor
        & defense attorney) for whatever that is worth.

        When it comes to criminal prosecutions in
        general and murder trials in particular, I
        hesitate to say that anything is a “slam dunk”
        especially where jury is making determination.

        As you may know, the “hearsay rule” is much
        more complicated than understood. Of course,
        I agree with you that Zaborsky may testify to
        what he saw and heard as well as whatever he
        himself may have done. And if Victor did what
        you think, he is guilty of aiding and abetting.

        Are you saying that the marital privilege is
        vitiated by third party witness (not my
        understanding) or only that others could
        testify to whatever Victor could not?

        Please know I do not disagree with you about
        likelihood of Zaborsky being accessory after
        fact & thus less culpable than Price or Ward.

        Again like yourself, I would appreciate Victor’s
        coming forward — whatever his reason may be
        for doing so. But there is a difference between
        doing that which is”respectable” & that which
        is “honorable.” Joseph’s presence at Robert’s
        funeral was respectable but not honorable.

        However, I would urge you to read my recent
        posts regarding ketamine administration. K
        can kill one by overdose which relates to my
        earlier theory about Price and Ward thinking
        either that: 1) Wone was alive when he was
        dead; or 2) Wone was dead when he was alive.

        If Price and Ward saw Robert coming out of
        stupor with apparent knowledge, they might
        have killed him out of fear (notwithstanding
        that rape would be considered by most to be
        not so morally reprehensible as murder).

        If Price & Ward saw Robert was not breathing,
        Joseph & Dylan might have killed Robert out
        of panic and in hope that authorities would be
        misled into thinking intruder stabbed Wone
        to death rather than realize that Joseph and
        Dylan actually overdosed Robert to death.

        Furthermore: if Wone died of ketamine OD
        his than stabbing would have occured “post
        mortem.” As confirmed by medical doctor
        friend, PM wounds would have yielded little
        blood. Thus, that much less clean up for
        whomever was involved after the fact.

        Under a “post mortem” scenario, there might
        have been no need for entrusting disposal of
        then nonexistent bloody articles by a “fourth”
        woman or man such as Michael P or Sarah M!

        Thanks for your input.

  8. Robert Spiegel
    08/03/2009 at 4:59 PM

    I agree with you as indicated in my reply to post
    by Clio above. Question is what would people
    prefer if they had a choice: 1) Price and Ward are
    convicted of some homicide but not necessarily
    premeditated murder and Zaborsky goes free in
    exchange for his testimony; or 2) Price, Ward and
    Zaborsky are all convicted of evidence tampering,
    justice obstruction and general conspiracy?

    In any event, I explained at anniversary “vigil”
    that: 1) in criminal case the weight of evidence for
    conviction is: “beyond a reasonable doubt”; 2) in
    civil case the weight of evidence for judgment is:
    “preponderance of evidence.” What this means is
    perpetrators could suffer long term imprisonment
    for criminal acts short of murder while homicide
    is indirectly established thru K Wone’s civil case.

    No more than in Simpson case would or should
    the above scenario satisfy the Wone family. But
    it might satisfy others that justice had more or
    less been served to the extent reasonably possible
    under the circumstances. Not my ideal resolution,
    but we don’t always get a perfect outcome in life.

    • NYer
      08/03/2009 at 5:36 PM

      It’s a tough question- overall, I think that retributive justice can be adequately served with the obstruction charges. But of course such a punishment would lack symbolic significance in terms of accountability.

      Anyway, even assuming a scenario in the most favorable light for Z. (that only W. and P. committed the crime, and Z. woke up to find RW dead, placed the 9-1-1 call and was not being a part of the homocide), his deliberate silence with each passing day since the homocide has made him a party to criminality. (Recall that P. had been characterized by prosecutors as wanting to do all the talking for Z. and W. -this strongly implies that Z was “in on it.”) It is very telling that Kirschner’s office has offered no plea bargain in this case to date. What that suggests to me is that the prosecution believes that they all deserve to be convicted.

      I regret missing the vigil, but I live far away. I learned of Wone’s case only a week ago through the WSJ blog, and commend them for being one of the few non-DC outlets to call attention to this travesty and tragedy.

      • Bea
        08/03/2009 at 6:02 PM

        I think it’s quite unlikely that Victor hasn’t had test balloons of “deals” through his attorney. My guess is that the DA is still trying that.

        • Robert
          08/03/2009 at 6:37 PM

          As indicated in below reply to my fellow
          NYer, I tend to agree with you about the
          likelihood that this prosecutor has floated
          some offers to Victor and possibly others.

          Even in absence of offers yet being made, I
          should think that Victor’s attorney would have apprised him of fact that if Zaborsky
          talks then Zaborsky walks further away
          than his beloved Price or not so Ward.

      • Robert
        08/03/2009 at 6:33 PM

        By the way, I am a Native New Yorker and
        interned at NY DA for whatever that is worth.

        I think you make good points about “retrib
        justice” and ultimate “accountability.” It
        would appear that you & I are on same page.

        I also tend to agree more with you than BEA
        about significance of Zaborsky’s culpability —
        even if he is only accessory after the fact.

        May I ask how you know that Kirschner hasn’t
        offered plea bargains in manner of informant
        deals to any of the accused in this case?

        The fact that prosecutor may not have offered
        plea bargains does not answer question for us.

        Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the
        Zaborsky testimony would be sufficient to
        unequivocally convict Price & Ward of murder.

        • Bea
          08/03/2009 at 7:08 PM

          I agree that “unequivocally” and “slam dunk” are overstatements (apologies) if Victor were to cooperate. But his testimony would go a long way toward a conviction even if he could only testify as to what happened after-the-fact (as in “they were cleaning the hell out of the place and disposing of stuff”). Who is to say that there have not been wiretaps (via warrant, of course) in Aunty Marcia’s or the previous rental? Because Kirschner was so bold to comment in open court that Price is a known drug distributor, is there not a chance that he is working with THAT source as well?

          As for Victor, part of my discourse here is that I assume he (like the others) read this. And I may be the ONLY one who would think it the honorable thing to do for him to come forward, even now. No, it doesn’t erase or excuse any prior bad acts, but it’s a heck of a lot better than living with that guilt the rest of his life – and my guess is that the Wone family would likely prefer it too.

          • Robert
            08/03/2009 at 7:25 PM

            Please do not misunderstand: I agree
            with you about benefits of Zaborsky

            In DC, there are strict laws on wiretaps.
            I do not know if taps would be option in
            this case at home of Zaborsky aunt?

            I believe reason for dropping burglary
            charges against Michael Price was done
            in hope Michael could provide evidence
            in murder case. My impression is he
            was either unable or unwilling to do so.

            I would certainly hope that everybody is
            reading your excellent posts and that it
            will inspire all to “do the right thing.”

        • NYer
          08/03/2009 at 8:38 PM

          Robert – greetings fellow New Yorker. I
          myself interned at the OAG civil division, and that’s worth little in this forum. 🙂

          Anyway, you asked how I know that Kirschner has not extended a plea deal. I read it specifically in the BLT:
          Admittedly, this particular source is outdated (Dec. 30, ’08) and for certain, many deals could be developing behind the scenes that we’re not aware of. But I assume, for the sake of these discussions, that the last reported fact is true, until we of course are updated with new developments by the press and/or the authorities.

  9. Robert
    08/04/2009 at 3:00 AM

    Prior post indicated that you were too far way to
    attend anniversary observance. In addition to
    moderators, only handful of us were there.

    If I may ask, where do you presently reside. Tho
    you may have interned “only” in civ div, bloggers
    have appreciated many insights offered by attys of
    all sorts such as copywright, patent and trademark.

    I am in no position to assess accuracy or currency
    of legal times report. But I agree with BEA that it
    would be hard to think that prosecutors have not
    offered deals to defendants & incentives 2 others.

    Again, BEA and I agree that defense lawyers must
    have explained to clients potential consequences 4
    their continuing silence. That is if Price, Ward or
    Zaborsky a/w/a others needed such explanation.

Comments are closed.