Big Love

Did the Third Degree Miss the Cracks on  Swann Lake?

Cue the Big Band music from HBO’s Big Love, but instead of Bill Paxton, out skates Arent Fox partner Joe Price onto Swann Lake.  Price offers his left hand and Victor Zaborsky joins him.  They skate together to the music, enjoying the attention of the other.  

Before long, Joe notices a waif from Tacoma, whom he encourages to join this happy skating family.  Victor gladly agrees, and Dylan glides toward the duo’s open arms, creating a trio in bliss.  Music swells, close-ups show beaming smiles in the company of each other.

All is good on Swann Lake.

This is the portrait the defendants hoped to paint for police the night of the murder: A happy and stable multi-partnered relationship who, just so, happened to be victims of a mysterious intruder; causing the death of Joe Price’s good friend, Robert Wone.

With the publication of the Swann Street trio’s statements, we experience this story in the immediacy of the murder’s aftermath.  As each discussses the multi-partner relationship, it reflects how they view their own role in the relation to the other.

Joe’s statements reveal a man who sees himself at the center of his spouse(s) attention.

In Victor’s we see measured responses that might belie actions that created a catalyst that cascaded out of control.

And in Dylan’s we see a man whose statements speak to an airy de-attachment about the victim and his membership in this big family of love.

Now, the defendants want to limit discussion of the relationship portrayed in their statements.  This takes the shape of a Defense Joint Motion in limine to Exclude Argument, Testimony and Evidence Regarding Defendants’ Sexual Histories and to Limit Argument, Testimony and Evidence Regarding Defendants’ Sexual Orientations

The housemates argue it is not relevant to what happened that night.  Or, is their big love at the heart of a big lie?

Victor begins his statement as he arrives home early from a business trip in Denver.  All three of the defendants work out in some capacity, then Victor and Dylan make dinner (unsuccessfully by causing steaks to burn) while Joe works on the broken Master bathroom shower. 

They have dinner, each retire to their own activities with Victor watering the plants, Dylan reading.  Things  things get very interesting from here according to Zaborsky’s statement:

“Actually, it was probably when I was coming up the stairs after watering the plants out front is when I saw Dylan making the bed in the office.  And I asked him what he was doing because I didn’t know we were having anyone coming over.  And he said that Robert was coming over, that he was working late and just wanted crash at our place rather than going home. 

And then I talked to Joe, and asked Joe and he said, yes, that’s what was – Robert was coming over and they were going to have breakfast in the morning.  So at that point is when I finished going up stairs and started watching TV.”

Before going any further, a few a housekeeping details about the relationship.  Joe is the breadwinner and co-owner of the home. Victor Zaborsky is his domestic partner, the other co-owner and shares Joe’s bed in the third floor master suite.  Dylan Ward, the third person in the relationship is Joe’s partner, and rents a room on the second floor.  From this set up, Victor has a higher station in the relationship – he co-owns the home with Joe, and is his registered Domestic Partner.

Put yourself in Victor’s shoes.  You have been away on a business trip, and are completely unaware that a guest will be staying at your home that night.  You spend an entire evening together with your spouse(s), have dinner, and clean up.  At each of these junctures Joe and Dylan do not tell you about Robert’s planned stay. You only find out because you walked in on the second spouse making the bed for the Robert?

Would you feel like you were being kept in the dark about what was going on in your own home?  How would this cause you to react?  Would your position in the relationship feel threatened?  These are all questions not that unreasonable to assume.

If the MPD had the intuition to pursue this line of thinking that night they would have gained more valuable information.  The following dialogue is particularly enlightening as to how the MPD not only missed a vital opportunity, but shut it down in its tracks:

Q: Okay. And you and Joe are partners?

A. Yes.

Q: — right. And is Dylan in the relationship anywhere?

A: Yes, he is.

Q: Okay. All right.  And you and Joe have know each other how long?

A: For over six years.

Q: And you’ve been together that long?

A: Yes.

Q: And what about Dylan?

A: Dylan’s been with us about four years.

Q:  Okay. Does Dylan share an equal part in the relationship or no?

A:  Not, not really.

Q: okay.

A: I mean, it’s — we’re trying to develop it in that way but it’s —

Q: Okay. That’s fine. You don’t have to explain that any further.  Any problems between you all?

A: No.

It’s interesting how Victor was quite willing to open up about the relationship, but the MPD shut it down.  This looks to be a critical mistake.  What could we have learned if Victor was allowed to speak at length about the relationship, especially if he was angry about it earlier in the evening.

Whatever is the case, the transcripts reveal that this is an intimate, multi-partnered relationship between the Swann Street housemates, and a jury will not be able to make the most informed decision possible if this is kept from them.

Did Victor feel left out of key information? Did Victor pitch such a fit that created, at a minimum, a tense environment for Robert to walk into, or at worse, a highly volatile and toxic situation that some how spun out of control?

That’s the big question about Big Love.

posted by David

37 comments for “Big Love

  1. CJ Biggs
    04/16/2010 at 11:08 AM

    I think it is hard to blame the DC police for not pursuing this line of questioning more rigorously at the early stage of the investigation. But the detective’s apparent desire to shut down Victor’s voluntary comments does smack of a silly PC sensibility in which the DC police want to avoid any appearance that they might be focusing in on a homosexual angle to the crime. Not at all surprising, but it was a missed opportunity, and maybe an important one.

    • Deb
      04/16/2010 at 2:47 PM

      I’m not so sure, CJ, only from the standpoint that most violent crimes inside of a home are domestic in nature.

  2. AnnaZed
    04/16/2010 at 11:54 AM

    I would think that a jury would be more likely to conclude that three men entwined in what they themselves call a polyamorous relationship might be more inclined to conspire in anything at all than three non-involved bachelor bromates and that the defense is certainly right to try to stop that from happening.

    I think that Judge Leibovitz will rule that knowledge of this necessary component of the relationship is crucial to the jury’s understanding of the dynamics at work in the house. I don’t see how it can be excluded. I’d also wager that in Victor’s mind he can’t be forced to give evidence against his husband.

    Maybe Dylan thinks this about himself too in some strange way. In any case, they can’t have it both ways.

  3. Spike
    04/16/2010 at 12:36 PM

    I disagree that the cop was trying to be PC. I think the cop was being homophobic and doing that “don’t give me the details of your love lives because I DON’T WANNA KNOW” thing because it’s just too much for him to be able to stomach.

    • Anonymous in DC
      04/16/2010 at 2:06 PM


  4. BenFranklin
    04/16/2010 at 12:38 PM

    If the defendants were Jewish would that be relevant? Jews might conspire to protect one another because are so entwined with their history and culture.

    White gay men in DC are a minority within a minority and must be protected from the oppression, humiliation, and prejudice by the majority.

    If sexuality is not part of the government’s case it must excluded.

    • Nora
      04/16/2010 at 1:48 PM

      My trilobite can do the backstroke.

      • TK
        04/16/2010 at 2:05 PM

        I Love you, Nora.

        • Bea
          04/16/2010 at 2:36 PM

          Oh yes.

      • CDinDC
        04/16/2010 at 4:57 PM

        I want a trilobite.

    • Craig
      04/16/2010 at 2:19 PM

      You don’t appear at all familiar with the demographics or the politics of this city Ben, let alone that of the crime scene’s zip code.

      • former crackho
        04/16/2010 at 2:23 PM

        Now don’t forget, our dear founding father was the victim of a henious crime, only to be victimized further by an incompetent, prejudiced DC jury.

        • AnnaZed
          04/17/2010 at 10:29 AM

          that smelled!

    • former crackho
      04/16/2010 at 2:19 PM

      Are those pussy willows?

  5. CJ Biggs
    04/16/2010 at 12:39 PM

    But a person can be forced to give evidence against a spouse. The law recognizes a privilege that protects from disclosure COMMUNICATIONS between spouses, but it doesn’t protect a spouse from having to testify as an eyewitness to actual criminal ACTIVITY.

    • Bea
      04/16/2010 at 1:48 PM

      If a third person (Dylan) was present to hear the communications, the privilege fails as to communications.

      • Charl
        04/17/2010 at 6:49 AM

        I’m at a loss here, please explain?

        • Meto
          04/17/2010 at 9:33 AM


          Bea means that privileged communications only retain their privilege so long as non-covered persons are not present. When a lawyer advises a client, that communication is protected; however, if a lawyer meets with a client and a third person who is not another lawyer on that matter or the client, the privilege is lost. So Dylan’s relationship with Joe and Victor is that of unprotected third person and if the three spoke together on the couch about how to respond to police questions, then Victor and Joe’s statements to each other would lose protection.

          Also if Victor chose now to speak, I don’t believe Joe can prevent that.



          • Craig
            04/17/2010 at 9:53 AM

            It sounds like there was some threesome chatter on the couch that evening while police were filing in and getting their first look at the crime scene.

            Maybe it’s those conversations that Kirschner wants to introduce by way of the “recollections” of those eleven officers. It’s possible that what was said in the living room is at odds with what was later told to good cop / bad cop at the VCB.

          • Charl
            04/17/2010 at 10:59 AM

            Thanks, Meto!

  6. Bea
    04/16/2010 at 1:27 PM

    It comes in. The charges include conspiracy. How likely is it that one “keeps” the secret of a lover versus how likely one keeps the secret of a landlord? Duh.

    The prosecution has already indicated that in its case in chief they will not trot out all the S&M equipment. It’s still highly probative (pardon) that Joe (Bill Henrickson) has both Victor (Barb) and Dylan (I see Dyl as more Margene than Nicki – if nothing else, Dyl cannot fix the roof or manhandle the new hot water heater into place). And that Barb may not be lovin’ Margene’s existence.

    Is it probative that BillJoe had been trolling for more wives in Alt Dot Com? You know, ones who like torture? Methinks so. And it follows the script, too, except there’s Ana the nice waitress serving pie who catches BillJoe’s eye, instead of Tricks reading BillJoe’s advertisement.

    Those darned polygamists are never satisfied. Polyamorous? No. Polygamist – BillJoe and his many wives.

    Still think its odd that Joe claims that “we were making the bed” for Robert when Victor was finally told of Robert’s imminent arrival. We who? Or does he claim all chores done by one of the wives?

    • TK
      04/16/2010 at 2:32 PM

      Love your comparison Bea. And yes of course since conspiracy is a charge, the nature/extent of their relationship should be relevant. Hopefully the judge agrees.

  7. Bea
    04/16/2010 at 5:18 PM

    FYI, Eds., love the use of “Big Love”. Too bad Joe does not have any “principle” to live by.

  8. Clio
    04/16/2010 at 8:59 PM

    Does the concept of “Big Love” encompass the women behind the men: Kim, Sarah, Lisa, Aunt Marcia, Victor? Or, is it merely androcentric? Are satellites Louis and Michael part of Joe Price’s patriarchy?

    From those three sets of transcripts, the sexual temperature at Swann was arctic, despite the summer heat. Joe and Vicki obviously did not make love that evening, while Dyl read in his room. Burned steaks do not make a great aphrodisiac; neither does talking about Lisa. They apparently bought all that BDSM gear, and, then, they did not use it on a regular basis?!

    • Bea
      04/16/2010 at 10:33 PM

      Good question – and now that the money well has dried up, wonder if there’s any mutiny? Not to say that Lisa or Aunt Marcia were ever on the payroll, though Sarah likely got a ‘deal’ in rent, and Michael and and Louis were likely always kept in pin money. Don’t know if the fathers paid child support but I’m guessing not any more!

      As for the sex, it sure reads as you suggest, at least for that fateful night. But I’m guessing that was the plan, to have it sound like a very boring night. I think the fun began after Joe left work just as Victor was arriving unexpectedly – Joe went with Michael for drugs (got high, thus Michael missed class), likely returned to Swann for some fun with Dyl before Victor’s gym-hunt-return.

      Later Victor mentions that Dyl’s door is closed but the lights on before Robert’s arrival and he makes reference to Joe taking care of the shower leak about then – perhaps more playing.

      Who really knows what happened that night – we have some basic parameters from the kernels of truth but that’s about it. And I am curious if most of the BDSM occurred elsewhere.

      • SheKnowsSomething
        04/17/2010 at 10:30 AM

        I think most of the BDSM occurred at the house in NE DC.

        • AnnaZed
          04/17/2010 at 11:50 AM

          Now that is a fresh thought. I wondered rather how the heavy lifting got done in the sardine can where the crying babies are but a flimsy expanse of historical brick façade away. It is possible isn’t it that Joe and Dylan availed themselves of a whole other venue for their really big theatrical sessions. Hence the police finding rubber sheets out there, maybe?

          • Clio
            04/17/2010 at 3:42 PM

            Yes, SKS and AZ, I had thought of the NE Playhouse as where Dyl and Joe did their glamour shots for the Arent Fox work computer. After all, where would you even put a sling in the “sardine can” that was/is 1509 Swann? I trust that the present owners are not faced with that pressing dilemma.

  9. Craig
    04/17/2010 at 11:47 AM

    SKS: When we did that drive by at the house in Northeast DC last year, it looked like a near shell, uninhabited for years. Then again, no telling what it looked like in the Summer of 2006.

  10. Lynn
    04/17/2010 at 1:13 PM

    Hello all! I’m a long time reader and it’s my first time to comment. David’s wonderful Big Love post made me want to thank everyone on the website for their intelligent and knowledgeable comments. I read each and every one and feel like I know all of you just a little bit. This case has intrigued me like no other. I’m here with all of you till the end, when hopefully there will be justice for Robert.

    • Bea
      04/17/2010 at 2:21 PM

      Welcome, Lynn – join us!

      • CDinDC
        04/17/2010 at 3:22 PM

        Yes, indeed! Welcome, Lynn. Please contribute your thoughts. I’d love to hear them!

  11. Clio
    04/17/2010 at 11:12 PM

    I am still struck by the lack of concern about Robert reflected in these transcripts — an astonishing indifference both before and after his murder. “Oh, Robert’s coming over,” said Dyl to Victor in a seemingly off-hand manner. It was as if Robert was “the intruder” on their evening of exercising, cleaning, plumbing, grilling, and TV-watching. The members of the trouple, in their twisted minds, then were “the victims” of Robert’s preplanned visit. Joe couldn’t even bother to answer the door when Mr. Wone arrived! After the murder, he’s worried only about what Cathy or the cops might think about “the worst thing that has happened to me.”

  12. Lynn
    04/18/2010 at 8:54 AM

    Bea and CD: I sure wish I had some new and fresh thoughts on this case, but I don’t. I almost always agree with both of you and the other posters who think along the same lines. I do find it hard to believe Robert’s death was planned beforehand, but the evidence points to the fact that something went terribly wrong and bad choices were made to cover up a crime. I guess those choices can legally be considered planned.

    I must also admit I looked at Dylan in a slightly different light after reading his transcript — i.e. I now wonder if he’s not quite as involved/culpable as he first appeared… but I’m keeping an open mind.

    I’m a little bit shy, but I’ll try to “chime” in once in awhile. 🙂

  13. Charl
    04/18/2010 at 12:23 PM

    Hi, Lynn! I share your sentiments – Dylan’s transcripts reflect a different angle from what I anticipated but I also reserve an open mind on this.
    Something else that’s been bugging me is a minor detail but relevant nevertheless: I’m trying to confirm whether Robert had his mouthguard in when he was found. Can anyone confirm this?
    If this is true, it’s possible that he WAS preparing for bed (or already asleep) when the whole enigmatic ordeal started. I’m thinking that it’s highly unlikely that anyone would’ve thought of putting his mouthguard in before police arrived, it’s also unlikely that anyone would’ve known he used one.
    Does this work in favour of our theory or make it more confused or is it entirely irrelevant?

  14. Robert
    04/20/2010 at 9:51 AM

    I recall it being reported that Robert had his mouthguard in which would tend to support the view that: 1) he did not plan the sleep over with an intent to take a “walk on the wild side” as some have suggested and 2) he was intruded upon after he had at least gone to bed if he was not already asleep. Perhaps others can shed more light on this.

    • Charl
      04/20/2010 at 3:52 PM

      Thanks for clarifying.
      I agree with your conclusions plus: 3.) He could have been in the bathroom when caught off guard 4.) Others knew of his mouthguard and inserted it (after the fact) for authenticity.

Comments are closed.