One of the very first witnesses of the Wone criminal trial did not surface in Judge Leibovitz’ written order until the final pages.
The time line of the evening still remains a mystery. The government’s theory that the 9-1-1 call was delayed rested on the testimony of the housemates’ next door neighbors, Mr. William Thomas and his wife Claudia.
Establishing a delay in Zaborsky’s 9-1-1 call would’ve been a harpoon in the side of all three former criminal defendants. A lag of anywhere between fourteen and fifty minutes would have been very incriminating for the threesome, demonstrating a failure to aide their dying friend.
“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.”
The defense team tried to rough up the two old timers when they were on the stand, with not-so-thinly veiled suggestions of senior moments and faulty memories that required a review/refresher of their grand jury testimony before testifying.
Not intimidated at all by the high-priced defense counsel, the Thomases held their ground. Mrs. Thomas knew what she knew and said, “I like Maureen Bunyan and that’s who I watched.”
Later in the trial, just before the closings, Zaborsky counsel Tom Connolly went as far as introducing a clip of the Nightline program (Defense exhibit #908) that followed Bunyan that night, from 11:45-11:52pm. Could it have been another woman’s voice on WJLA-TV that night that Mr. Thomas heard?
Connolly’s fourth quarter Hail Mary Maureen pass seemed to do the trick. Although Leibovitz did not go into detail in her order, it was reasonable doubt as far as she was concerned, and with that, the government case and time line was basically screwed.
Can the Thomases be rehabilitated if they take the stand in the civil trial?
Leibovitz apparently did not buy the Thomas’ testimony at all. She gave it minor mention in her order, while seemingly discounting the couple recollections in their entirety:
“I conclude that the government’s evidence does not sufficiently establish the time of the stabbing or of the defendants’ discovery of the stabbing to prove the defendants’ timelines are false. The defendants’ next door neighbor, Mr. Thomas, testified that he heard a scream from his bedroom at a time when he also believed he heard reporter Maureen Bunyan on television from downstairs, suggesting that this had to be before the conclusion of the news at 11:30 pm…. However, none of this evidence is conclusive on the question of the truthfulness of the defendants’ timeline.”
OK, Leibovitz was a tough sell. But looking at the upcoming civil trial, how well may Mr. and Mrs. Thomas play in front of a jury? A jury that is likely to be more in line with their demographic than that of the defendants.
Just whose peers will the jury most resemble? Anyone who’s served on a DC jury is familiar with the make up of the twelve. There are generally three to five men and women in the jurors’ box that look a lot like Mr. And Mrs. Thomas, longtime residents of DC and maybe longtime viewers of Maureen Bunyan too, for all we know.
Leibovitz cut the Thomases no slack at all. Perhaps due to her experience in medical malpractice cases, she was more inclined to lean on the conflicting and complex testimony on Robert’s Pulseless Electrical Activity (PEA) and the statements of the defendants in piecing together a time line, rather than the testimony of a man who heard what he called a “desperation scream” from only a few feet away.
There’s another controversial element of Leibovitz’ construct that we’ll address another time – the supposed 11:08 email transition – so keep your powder dry on that until later. But if the civil team can convince the jury to buy into the Thomases testimony more than the government team was able to, the time line of the night will shift dramatically, without a doubt.
-posted by Craig