WASHINGTON (AP) — Three romantically linked men who lived in a posh D.C. neighborhood were acquitted Tuesday of misleading police in the investigation of a mysterious stabbing death at the men's town house in 2006.
D.C. Superior Judge Lynn Leibovitz said despite "suspicious and even damning circumstances," prosecutors did not prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt after a five-week trial. Joseph Price, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky had been charged with obstructing justice and conspiracy after 32-year-old lawyer Robert Wone, of Oakton, Va., was stabbed to death in a guest room at their home.
The three defendants lived together as a self-described family in Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood. They insisted the stabbing was committed by an intruder, but there were no signs of struggle or forced entry.
Prosecutors claimed the men's unusual relationship showed the intensity of their bond, and that they would be willing to lie to protect each other and their family members.
Ms. Leibovitz read her 35-page order to a packed courtroom as the defendants looked on with little expression. She said it was very probable the government's theory that all or some of the defendants withheld helpful information from investigators was correct, but she couldn't find the men guilty.
"My focus on the difference between 'moral certainty' and 'evidentiary certainty' in this case is probably cold comfort to those who loved Robert Wone and wish for some measure of peace or justice, and I am extremely sorry for this," Ms. Leibovitz said.
The night Mr. Wone was killed, he had arranged with Mr. Price, a friend from college, to stay at the house after working late, rather than return to his Oakton home about 20 miles from the town home.
Mr. Wone was by all accounts happily married to a woman. Prosecutors believe he was incapacitated and sexually assaulted before he was killed.
Prosecutors offered theories about who killed Wone, including one or more of the defendants and Mr. Price's brother, Michael.
Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Price, a lawyer, as the leader of a cover-up, and the judge noted in her order when Mr. Ward began to talk to officers on the night of Mr. Wone's slaying, Mr. Price "gave him a stare the officers interpreted as forbidding." Mr. Ward was then quiet and Mr. Price gave a statement, continued to do most of the talking and led police on a tour of the town home, the judge said.
The mystery captured the attention of many around the Washington region.
According to their statements, Mr. Zaborsky and Mr. Price discovered Mr. Wone's body, and Mr. Ward emerged from his bedroom later, after hearing the commotion. Prosecutors questioned why Mr. Price and Mr. Zaborsky didn't immediately check on Mr. Ward if they believed a dangerous intruder was in the house. Mr. Ward's bedroom was next to the room in which Mr. Wone was found.
All three men declined to comment as they left the courthouse. Mr. Price's lawyer, Bernie Grimm, said his client will now have to regroup.
"Mr. Price, through this ordeal, is virtually bankrupt," Mr. Grimm said. "He lost his home, he lost his family, he lost his job and now he's going to try to get his life back."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner called the judge's verdict thoughtful and well-reasoned.
"We respect and accept the judge's verdict," he said. "Everybody knew this was a challenging investigation and prosecution."
Prosecutors had hoped to get justice for Mr. Wone's parents and wife, Mr. Kirschner said, but the case will remain open so they can pursue charges in the slaying if new evidence is found.
Earlier this month, Leibovitz acquitted Zaborsky and Ward of tampering with physical evidence. Mr. Price was acquitted of that charge Tuesday.