FINAL: 8:30pm – Testimony from Kathy Wone, RFA, 1507 Neighbors and the EMT
Today’s updates were a little thin due to few and very short breaks called by Judge Lynn Leibovitz. To make up for the short updates, this will be a thorough readout on the day’s proceedings.
The session kicked off at 9:45am with Kathy Wone back on the witness stand being questioned by AUSA Glenn Kirschner. Kirschner asked how and when Robert’s overnight at Swann Street came about. She said it was a “good idea” for him to stay in town considering his full evening – the CLE and his planned visit to the RFA night team. He had a choice to stay at Price’s house or with a Lisa (not Goddard). He chose Price.
The Wone’s day began with a gym visit and a Metro ride into town from the Vienna station. As was customary, he walked her to her office on Connecticut Avenue then kissed her goodbye in front of her office. Kathy and Robert exchanged a few emails during the day after that.
Following the CLE, Robert called her around 9:30pm. She was at home planning an October weekend trip to a B&B in Williamsburg. On the call Robert “…sounded very happy.” They said goodnight and “I love you,” with the understanding they’d see each other the next day.
It was the start of a very long and emotional day.
Kirschner asked Kathy about Robert’s habits for overnight trips. She said he’d pack, then she would “repack” – a running joke between them. She identified Robert’s gym bag that had been packed by way of a government photo exhibit, #330.
After three and a half years of marriage, she learned his habits well. At the end of a work day he would hang his suit jacket and pants, while tossing his shirt into a hamper. He’d hang his tie up and any sweaty gym clothes would be hung on a drying rack. Kirschner asked if he would toss them on the floor. “No,” she said.
What would Robert do with a wet towel? Hang it on a towel rack to dry, not the back of a chair, a place Kirschner may have thought the defense was headed.
Kathy went to sleep around 11:00pm. The phone rang at 12:04am. It was Joe Price:
“Kathy, I can’t believe I’m calling you about this, but go to GW Hospital. Robert’s been stabbed. Robert was stabbed in the back.”
Kathy called a cab, picked up Robert’s parents along the way and headed to DC. She said her mind was racing with thoughts of how and why: What was Robert doing outside? Was he surprised from behind? Why was he out at night? She was consumed with ‘where in the back’ he was stabbed. “Kidney, shoulder blade, spinal cord? Was he paralyzed?” She thought of how they could make the Oakton townhouse wheelchair accessible if that was the case. She thought that she “wouldn’t love him any less if he’s disabled.”
She and Robert’s parents arrived at GW too late. Robert had already been pronounced dead.
Kirschner turned to her communications with Joe Price. She got a mid-morning call from him on Thursday, May 3, while he was still at the Anacostia VCB. The police were done with Price, but Ward and Zaborsky were still being questioned. He volunteered some information: Robert arrived around 10:20pm, they hung out at the kitchen island, drank water, Victor already in bed, they retired for the evening and Robert took a shower. Price told her he went to bed and watched some TV.
Price told her he heard a chime, ignored it thinking it was roommate Sarah Morgan. Price said he heard a “commotion” and ran downstairs to find Robert. Did he mention a stab location Kirschner asked? “No.” A knife? “No.”
Asked when she next spoke to Price, Kathy said it was the next day, Friday August 4 in Oakton, while friends and family were paying condolence calls and the funeral was being planned. She said she did not know Price, Ward and Zaborsky were coming. She said she took them into the basement for privacy and that she “wanted to comfort them” She asked how they were doing and holding up.
Did all three talk, Kirschner wondered? “No, Joe did all the talking.” Ward and Zaborsky were “very quiet.” Eventually they talked about what happened. Kathy said Price restated the points from the phone call from the day before but that she asked for a few more details. She heard of the grill fire, the plumbing problems the housemates struggled with that night.
Kathy asked if they knew of the back door had been locked. “I don’t think it was,” replied Price. Minutes later Price’s cell phone rang. “I got the sense it was a call he didn’t want me to listen to…it sounded like it was a lawyer.” Price excused himself to take the call leaving Kathy with his housemates. When Price returned she had more questions: “I was strong enough to ask what happened,” she testified.
“Did you hear any voices, noises? A scream, a fight… That’s what Robert would’ve done.” She said Price made a stabbing motion, three times, accompanied by an “uh-uh-uh,” perhaps an effort to describe the noises he allegedly heard before descending the stairs.
“I immediately told him to stop. It felt like opening a book to the most terrifying page, and I needed to slam it shut,” she said.
The next 20 minutes was consumed by testimony on Robert’s habits: would he sleep under the sheets, how he would arrange bed covers, when would he put in his bite guard and wrist guard (for carpal tunnel – that he did NOT pack that night) and whether she could recognize his BlackBerry, wallets, watch, cotton hanky from a government evidence photo.
Next up: the defendants behavior at the funeral. All three housemates attended…joined by Michael Price. Kathy had never met him before. Joe introduced them and all Michael said was, “Hello.” The next time she saw the housemates was at the wedding of “mutual friend” Lida Goddard in October 2007. After dinner, Zaborsky stopped by her table and said hello. Price told her he had a few of Robert’s things that he wanted to get to her. He did not elaborate and although the wedding was “emotionally difficult” for her, they went about making plans to get together again for lunch.
The date would be in November at Speize on L Street, NW. Price handed Kathy a two inch stack of paper, emails and notes between Joe and Robert. Price offered his view on the state of the investigation. “He was angry, bitter and disparaging of the police work.” He said the MPD did not follow up on the list of 1509 key holders, contractors. He complained that the police may not have looked at “the crack house across the street,” or the dumpster behind the house. According to Mrs. Wone, Price made no mention of the October burglary, but he did mention Florida and that Ward moved down there two months earlier and that he “wanted to start a new life.” The mid-morning break followed at 10:45am.
After the break, Kathy said plans for a follow up meeting did not materialize, but they next saw each other at a December 1, 2007 dinner hosted by Lisa Goddard and her husband. All three housemates attended but the topic of Robert’s murder was not brought up. Any subsequent communications, Kirschner asked? “No,” was the answer.
At 11:20am, Price counsel Bernie Grimm began his cross. He went through how they first met, the 13 Club work and the extent of their long friendship. Grimm questioned her about Robert’s birthday party the housemates hosted, the Equality Virginia dinner they all attended. Grimm accompanied his questions with defense photo exhibits, of happier days. He asked if Robert had other gay friends. “Yes,” she replied.
He asked her to describe Price’s tone on the August 2 phone call. “I remeber his words were deliberate,” she said, then added, “…I thought during the call he also was in shock.” Did she misunderstand Price? Did he say, “stabbed in the bed,” not back? No, she told Grimm. Regarding the Thursday phone call from Price to Kathy, she related how Price mentioned how they were treated by the MPD during questioning. “Joe was upset the way the police were treating them because they were gay.”
Were the housemates distressed and crying at the condolence visit? Yes. Grimm asked how long the Oakton commute was; a little over an hour we were told, door-to-door. Did Robert shower at night during hot weather? “Rarely,” she said. He asked about the defendants’ behavior at the funeral. “They looked shell-shocked,” she answered.” How often did she visit 1509 Swann? Did she ever go in and out through the back door? Did she ever attend a BBQ there? Did Robert go to Roanoke to visit Price’s parents?
One of his final questions was about the midnight call she first got from Price after the murder, apparently she did not answer the phone the first time but got it on the second.
At 12:15pm Ward counsel David Schertler began his cross. More of the same: folding clothes, what he’d do with a wet towel, the contents of his go-kit, what he would wear to bed, if he slept under a comforter of top sheet, and finally, the mouth guard. Demeanor at the Friday condolence call, were the housemates grieving? “That’s how it appeared to me,” she said.
At 12:45 Zaborsky counsel Thomas Connolly asked the briefest of questions, all focused solely on his client, not the others. “When Victor paid the sick call in Oakton, did he cause you comfort and joy?” Yes. “Do you agree that Victor is a naturally quiet person?” Again, yes was the response.
Judge Leibovitz then had a few questions of her own: comforter, top sheet, did he sleep on top of them or pull them down? Did he read or watch TV in bed?
Kirschner was next with redirect. He wanted Kathy to more clearly characterize Robert’s relationship with Price, perhaps to pushback on Grimm’s rosy scenario of BFFs. Could she “quantify” the friendship. “I was surprised to learn of certain things.” Maybe she didn’t know Joe that well after all.
And back to the birthday party. How did Price ‘orchestrate’ the affair? Who paid? Kathy made it sound like she picked up the full tab. Who toasted Robert? Joe alone, neither Kathy or Robert’s brother Andrew did.
The afternoon session got underway at 2:00pm with Kenny Swift, night shift supervisor at Radio Free Asia. Swift recounted the details of Robert’s visit there on the night of August 2. He remembered quite a few details of the visit because they didn’t see many at night, and even fewer of Robert’s position.
AUSA.Patrick Martin asked Swift how Robert was dressed. “Like a lawyer, white shirt and tie,” was his response. Courtroom laughter followed. He said Robert was “very interested in what we were doing,” and that he recalls the visit lasted until about 10:30pm.
Grimm and Schertler’s cross was minimal, Connolly took a pass.
Next up at 2:15 was W-3, the 1507 Swann Street neighbor who reported hearing a scream that night. Mr. William Thomas took the stand and relayed the evening’s events to AUSA Rachel Carson Leiber. His wife Claudia later backed up his version of the night. Mr. Thomas went to bed around 10:30 but woke up sometimes after 11:00pm to use the bathroom. He remembered hearing the scream when WJLA’s Maureen Bunyan was anchoring the evening news. While in the second floor hallway, he heard her voice from the TV on the first floor. Mrs. Thomas was watching Bunyan in the kitchen before doing the dishes.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas both survived pointed cross by Connolly, Grimm and Schertler. Both witnesses were asked if they reviewed their September 2006 grand jury testimony to refresh their possibly faulty memories. Both admitted they did. Both still stuck to their stories, adamant that the scream occurred while Bunyan was on the air. We also learned something about the glacial pace that the MPD conducts murder investigations. These next door neighbors were not interviewed by detectives until nearly three weeks after the murder. That lapse, too, as possible room for error or hazy recollections, was pointed out by defense counsel.
After a mid-afternoon break, things got back underway at 3:45pm. Zaborsky’s 9-1-1 call was played in its entirety, including several previously unreleased minutes from the tape, which mostly sounded like Zaborsky crying and EMT chaos in the background. The sound of first responder footsteps going up the house’s wooden staircase to the second floor were pronounced. This recording may be the US Secret Service enhancement.
Zaborsky sat motionless and emotionless during most of the call’s playback, but was seen wiping tears away from his eyes at the conclusion, the extra minute or two of nothing but radio static and sobbing.
Another short break followed as the model of 1509 Swann was brought in. The FBI-made model was not to scale according to Grimm’s objection, seemingly prompted by his client Price.
EMT Jeff Baker, first to arrive at 1509, took the stand. He relayed his 14 years of experience answering calls in DC, minor and traumatic. He’s seen several hundred violent crime scenes including many stabbings. He described the typical atmosphere he sees as “chaotic.” He arrived at 1509, saw Zaborsky on a phone at the stoop and proceeded upstairs with a Reeves stretcher. He says he saw the unresponsive Ward even before getting to the top of the stairs. In the guestroom he observed Price sitting on the bed with his back to him, a leg tucked up underneath.
Baker volunteered, “…hair stood up on the back of my neck.” A moment later, the entire defense table seemed to erupt with an objection, as if they’ve been waiting years for that moment. Sustained. Leibovitz cautioned Kirschner to better manage his witness and to stick to the observations, not feelings. “I’ll strike the last sentence and instruct myself not to consider it,” she said.
Baker saw Price and “spotted him up,” short hand to determine if he was a threat or not. Asked if he saw any blood on Price’s hand, Baker replied “no.” Moments later Baker attended to Robert. The stab wounds were visible, but he didn’t see any blood on his chest, abdomen or anywhere in the room. Robert’s vitals were flat, no signs of life. As an EMT he could not pronounce death, just presume it. Robert appeared dead to Baker.
Kirschner asked Baker about life saving measures and was told that in the ambulance on the way to GW, a firefighter was compressing Robert’s chest while his EMT colleague was hooking up an IV. It went into the bend of the elbow while Baker worked Robert’s airway. It was en route to GW that Baker noticed the striations on Robert’s abdomen. “It looked like it was wiped down,” and that the imprint of a towel’s texture was visible. “It looked like a light film,”… moist with linear marks.
Kirschner showed Baker a large blow up of an autopsy photo, government exhibit #381, and it was briefly visible to the audience. Members of the Wone family were crying even before that. Baker was asked about other needle puncture marks and said he was not authorized to insert needles into a patient’s chest. He also said there would’ve been no reason for any resuscitative needles in Robert’s feet or ankles. While hooked up to monitors in the ambulance, Baker said Robert was ‘P.E.A’, meaning Pulseless Electrical Activity.
Kirchner hauled out another government exhibit photo to show Baker, this one of the sofa bed Robert was found on. Anyone in the audience who got a quick glance saw what looked to be clean sheets and only two crimson spots, maybe four to five inches across.
To wrap the session Kirschner next had Baker guide him through the route and steps he took when arriving at 1509, illustrating it with the model. Judge Leibovitz descended the bench to take a closer look and joined them in her courtroom’s well. The session wrapped a few minutes later.
Court comes back into session on Thursday at 9:45am.