Upstairs, Downstairs and on the Stand
After the lunch break today, the fireworks erupted over statements. Again.
As mentioned in the updates post today, the government has decided to admit all defendants’ statements for the truth of the matter. Ward counsel Robert Spagnoletti was winding up with his best evidentiary and constitutional arguments (confrontation clause), before Judge Lynn Leibovitz tabled the discussion until Wednesday morning.
Expected on the stand first was downstairs tenant, Sarah Morgan, but another audible by the government brought up Paula Salvador in her place.
Salvador was the instructor of Michael Price’s phlebotomy course and she discussed both her credentials and the curriculum for the classes.
Students were book taught first, then went onto simulations with dummies then would draw blood on each other. It was a three month course from June 7 – August 23.
Salvador told us that Michael Price’s perfect attendance record was spoiled by missing his first 7:00pm-9:15pm class on the night of August 2, 2006. He would go on to be absent on the nights of August 9, 14 and 16 as well.
AUSA Kirschner’s direct took only 15 minutes and Price counsel Bernie Grimm’s cross only took 5, after he implored Miss Salvador “…not to stick him.” Ahem. Grimm got Salvador on record as saying the training was only for blood drawing, and not injections.
At 3:30pm, the much anticipated testimony of Sarah Morgan began.
Morgan, the soft-spoken, Trinity ’92 Art History major has known defendant Victor Zaborsky for sixteen years and described him as “a close friend.” She’s known Price for ten years and Dylan Ward for seven. Asked to describe the Price – Zaborsky relationship, she characterized them as partners. Managing the direct, Glenn Kirschner then asked her to describe the nature of the Price – Ward relationship, but he was interrupted by an objection shouted in unison by the defense team.
A bench conference followed with Miss Morgan excused from the witness stand to take a seat in the jury box. After the bench, Kirschner went at her again and asked her to detail Ward’s move to DC and into the house. He arrived to the city from Boston in August 2003. Kirschner produced two sets of grand jury testimony to refresh her memory, one from August 22, 2006 and a more recent one from December 22, 2008.
Again, Kirschner asked Morgan to describe the Price – Ward relationship. She said, “He (Ward) thought Joe was going to break up with Victor and he would beome Joe’s partner.”
Morgan said she made frequent visits to the defendants’ former home on Capitol Hill and said she had the opportunity to observe them all interact. Price “showed affection” with both Zaborsky and Ward, but did not recall if Zaborsky was affectionate with Ward. Although Ward used the word, “polyamarous,” in describing the relationship among the three, she said neither Price or Zaborsky used that term.
She moved into 1509 Swann Street in April 2005 and had use of the entire house, coming and going through the front door. Using the dollhouse model of 1509, Morgan gave the prosecutor a walking tour of the floors and rooms including the patio and parking area. The house was re-keyed shortly after her arrival and she went on to describe which keys opened which doors. The front door, patio door and rear gate used the same keys and that the key was needed to lock the heavy gate. The gate swung freely, opening inward.
Morgan described Price and Zaborsky as “caring and loving… they were definitely partners.” Price and Ward were “caring” as well and described those two as partners also. Zadborsky and Ward were, “..close, cohesive and caring to each other.” She had met Robert and Kathy Wone twice, once at Robert’s 30th birthday party at the Constitution Avenue home, but she did not mentioned the second time. We think it was at the Equality Virginia banquet. On more than one occasion this afternoon, Morgan would say, “Robert,” only to correct herself and then say, “Mr. Wone.”
Regarding the night in question, she said she recalled that Price said Robert was going to overnight, but that she didn’t know the exact date. She went to her friends Tom and John’s house at about 6:00pm to watch TV for the evening and they invited her to spend the evening. Tom and John live 5-6 blocks away and Sarah got there by Metrobus. No one was home at 1509 when she left and she called Price to tell him that she turned the house’s alarm on. Price said it was fine and Sarah told him to “not wait up.” She left by way of the front door, locked it and took her toothbrush along with her to Tom and John’s.
Sarah was tucked in and asleep when the phone rang at 5:50am. Price called her and said:
“Where are you? You still at Tom and John’s? I don’t have time to explain but I’m OK, Victor is OK and Dylan is OK. Don’t go back to the house!”
Price sounded “hurried and excited,” and she thought the house with its structural issues was having problems and went back to sleep. When she awoke she texted all three of her roommates but got no response. Kirchner asked her if she got another phone call and the defense table erupted once again with an objection. A very lengthy bench conference followed and while seated again in the jury box, it didn’t appear that Morgan once looked at the defendants, her former housemates, seated only fifteen feet away. She sat patiently while waiting for the legal wrangling in front of the bench to finish.
Kirschner asked if she got a call from Michael Price that morning. Yes she did, at around 7:00am. The younger Price asked her if she knew what was going on and told her someone broke into the house and had stabbed Robert. Michael Price then said that he needed to get a hold of John Nassikas, a then partner, now former at Arent-Fox. Morgan did not have Nassikas’ contact information and told Michael to look it up.
She received a second call from Michael Price saying that her roommates were at the VCB and that Robert had died. Another call from Joe Price came in and she told him, “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe this.” Price said it was, “…unbelievable… This is not my life.” Price went on to describe the now familiar timeline according the defendants: they sat around the kitchen, had water, retired for the evening and Robert took a shower.
That call was cut short by Price taking an incoming. Morgan got dressed, called Tom and John, her office, then drove a friend’s car to the VCB. She called Michael Price en route, and when she arrived there she was met by him, his partner at the time – Louis Hinton – and Lisa Goddard.
When she saw Joe Price, she said he was upset, that “the police were making anti-gay statements… and that they called Victor his ‘wife’.” At one point in the VCB’s parking lot, she saw MPD Detective Brian Waid approach Price to apologize for some of the things that were said. Morgan wondered if there was anything she could share with the detectives, but Joe Price said they had her contact information and that it wasn’t necessary. She did speak with Detectives Waid and Russell-Brown at the VCB on the following Monday.
The hour was late and Kirschner and said things, “were going slow.” He was right. Judge Leibovitz adjourned the trial until Wednesday morning at 9:50am.
And again, happy birthday Robert.
Scene during Sarah Morgan’s testimony: Sarah Morgan’s testimony has been one of the most anticipated events of the trial by case watchers. On everyone’s mind was whether she would tell everything she knows about the Swann Street household. On numerous occassions, friends have told us, “Sarah knows everything.”
So far, though, her testimony has gone according to script, or at least what is known that she said before. There were a few new nuggets about Dylan telling her that Joe would break up with Victor to be with him, and that Michael Price was calling about a Arent Fox partner. But no bombshell.
The scene in the courtroom, though, told a different story.
While it is common for Joe Price to appear to be agitated during court proceedings, this time it was Victor. His face was sullen when Sarah was called. The affable Victor was tense; he could not hide it. The color drained from his face as she approached the stand. So it seemed odd when Kirschner asked her to identify the defendants, Victor sprang to his feet and broke out that famous smile of his as if they were meeting for the first time. He grew stoic when Sarah discussed how Dylan told her that Joe was going to break up with him.
Sarah Morgan appeared equally as tense throughout her testimony. She knew what she was talking about; certainly didn’t offer anything beyond the question she was asked. When she sat in the jury box as the lawyers met with the judge, she appeared on the verge of crying, but worked to hold back any emotion. She is soft-spoken and appears to have lost weight since 2006. Also, her hair is blonder than in then. She seems a truly nice individual, and someone who the gentle Victor would befriend. Her testimony is far from over, but, for now, all is quiet on the western front. — David