Break in D.C. Lawyer Murder Case

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Robert Wone

Three men indicted for obstruction of justice in mysterious 2006 murder of community-minded lawyer

WASHINGTON — On the night of Aug. 2, 2006, Robert Wone, general counsel for Radio Free Asia and president-elect of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association-D.C., was found stabbed to death at a friend’s Dupont Circle townhouse.

For two years, there was no news on the case. Then in October and November came the arrests of all three occupants of that townhouse on charges of obstruction of justice: Joseph Price, a law partner at Arent Fox and former general counsel for Equality Virginia who attended the College of William and Mary with Wone; Victor Zaborsky, former marketing manager for the International Dairy Foods Association and Price’s domestic partner; and Dylan Ward, a massage therapist and former spokesman for Equality Virginia, who was also Price’s former lover. All have pleaded not guilty.

On the night of his murder, Wone, 32, had attended a continuing legal education class and returned to his office at Radio Free Asia, where he had begun working a month earlier. Wone lived with his wife of three years in Oakton, Va., but had told her that he would be staying over at Price’s house due to his late work schedule.

It is unclear what time Wone arrived at Price’s home, but he was incapacitated, assaulted and stabbed all within an hour of his arrival. Police said Wone had needle marks in his neck, hand, foot and chest; there was evidence of sexual assault and three precise stab wounds to Wone’s chest area, and no defensive wounds. His body was found dressed and laying on a sofa bed in the guestroom, with no signs of burglary or struggle. Paramedics found the three residents’ calm behavior unusual; none was screaming or even helping direct the paramedics.

In Ward’s bedroom, detectives found numerous sexual devices, bondage materials with certain passages highlighted and a copy of The New Yorker magazine that contained a sketch of Shakespeare on his death bed, a position similar to how Wone’s body was discovered.

According to the police affidavit made public at the end of October, Ward, Price and Zaborsky all stated that the night of the murder was the first Wone had spent at their home. It also said that Wone was heterosexual, happily married and had no sexual relationships with the men.

Wone was a fourth-generation Chinese American, who was born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a high school student, he wrote an essay and news articles for AsianWeek. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1996 and attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

President-elect Obama’s attorney general nominee Eric Holder, who worked with Wone at the law firm Covington & Burling, called him in 2007 “a kind and gentle man” who was “killed in the most horrible of ways.” Holder added: “As despicable as that crime was and is, as big a tragedy as that is, it is compounded by the fact that Robert’s killer has not been brought to justice.”

Wone was active in the Asian American community, and since his death, groups like the Organization of Chinese Americans-New Jersey and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Educational Fund, of which Wone was a Board member, have established scholarships in his name. A forum on judicial clerkships directed at minority law students, initiated by Wone, has been named after him and takes place annually at Howard University Law School.

Wone was also involved in the Organization of Chinese Americans and spent many hours helping the group purchase its headquarters in downtown D.C.; this year, a room in the building was named after him.  He also advised the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in New York.

Aryani Ong, the former deputy director at the Organization of Chinese Americans who recruited Wone to do pro bono legal work for the group, said he remains an inspiring figure in the greater Asian American community.

“When I met Robert, I recognized he was immeasurably special — he had a sincere interest to do community service, which is why several fellowships and honors are now made in his name,” Ong said. “The people who have supported Robert’s family, particularly all those connected with his case, have represented the best of Robert’s spirit. I hope people will carry on his light by remembering Robert in life and living the way he did.”

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