The Peacock ‘Who Killed Robert Wone?’

Who Killed Robert Wone? it is not a victim-centered true crime documentary. Wone is a minimal presence, mostly brought up as a topic of conversation among law enforcement, bloggers, and friends. The documentary includes interviews with other close friends of Wone’s, who recall him being somewhat shy but in love with his wife, fellow lawyer Kathy. Cathy was not involved in the documentary, but there is footage of her interview with the media after the murder (“The four and a half years I had with Robert, it’s very sacred,” she says).

Wone, a general counsel for Radio Free Asia, had spent the night with his friends, Price, also a lawyer, and Zamborski. Price and Wone had known each other since college. Price even threw a birthday party for Wone once. On the night of the murder, Wone was trying to stay overnight in DC so as not to wake Kathy with a late arrival at their suburban home.

That is where the indisputable facts end. The documentary features interviews with law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and Washington journalists and bloggers, and it’s abundantly clear that after the night of the murder, the investigation and the surrounding conversation was skewed by obvious biases.

For example, the police seemed confused by the fact that Ward wasn’t just matching with Zamborski and Price and that there were romantic ties.

“I’ve got three gays in one house and I’ve got a straight guy, what’s he doing there?” a police officer asks Price in interrogation footage from that night. “I think we all drink wine… do you know what will happen tonight? You come to Jesus tonight.”

“That’s fascinating, insulting and insulting,” Price replies.

While residents said an intruder was the culprit, cops claimed there were intact cobwebs on a security fence that an outsider would have to jump over to get into the house. Wounds like Wone’s would have resulted in significant blood loss, but this was not evident in the scene, which looked as if it had been staged. During the search, Price suddenly remembered removing the weapon, a knife, from Wone’s chest. (Ultimately no fingerprints were found.) When Ward took a polygraph test, the results indicated possible deception when he said he didn’t know who killed Wone.

In 2008, prosecutors were charged and arrested the three men for obstruction of justice and floated a theory of the case: Wone’s own sperm had been found in his body, leading them to believe that Wone had been sexually assaulted, paralyzed with a drug, and murdered.

The claims exploded online. Price had been actively involved in the battles between marriage and equality, and these shocking accusations received a lot of attention, including from the gay community. A lot of information about the men’s sex life was leaked. S&M devices – including restraints and genital cages – were found in Ward’s room. Price was a submissive who posted on online kink communities under the name “Culuket,” which police claimed was a reference to ketamine. There was ecstasy at the scene, but Wone’s drug screen was negative.

The documentary does a good job of showing how a legal case turned into a melodrama. One headline called the case a “gay mystery novel.” Gay bloggersincluding David Greer and Doug Johnson, started a popular blog called Who Murdered Robert Wone?, which chronicled each new development for a growing community of proto-redditor commenters.

“We were almost a gay family of choice looking at a family falling apart three blocks away,” Greer says of himself and three other gay bloggers, pointing to the commonalities that can drive personal interest in true crime mysteries.

In 2010, Price, Zaborsky and Ward all went on trial. At trial, the defense managed to get most of the shocking sexual material marked as prejudicial and therefore outside the scope of the case, and prosecutors then focused on questions about the murder weapon to highlight possible obstruction by the defendant. The men were after all he was acquitted.

The documentary echoes the judge’s decision, where she noted: “Even if the defendants did not participate in the murder, some or all of them … chose to withhold … information for their own reasons.” But, pointing out the difference between moral and evidentiary certainty, he declared them innocent.

The men moved to Florida and eventually Ward divorced the Price/Zaborsky marriage. In the absence of a legal conclusion, the documentary presents other cases. Price’s defense attorney speculated that Ward was the most likely culprit. Blogger Greer rejects the idea that the three occupants of the house were not actually in a couple.

“It wasn’t a three-way relationship,” he suggests—rather, he says Price had independent relationships with Ward and Zaborsky. “Those dynamics created what probably exploded that night in some way or another,” he says. It’s an interesting theory, one you could imagine as the basis for a mystery novel. But despite the possible emotional significance, the nature of their relationship is not ultimately a legal issue.

This is the tension in his heart Who Killed Robert Wone?, which essentially pits the public’s hunger for narrative against legal rigor. The documentary’s captivating structure, which deconstructs a case with an ultimately unclear outcome, could be read as a cautionary note about making judgments based on speculation. It probably won’t be. ●

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