“Don’t wait up,” Sarah Morgan jokingly told her housemates at 1509 Swann Street NW as she left home the night of Aug. 2, 2006, to hang out with some of her other gay friends, Tom and John.
At 5:50 a.m. the next morning, she received an urgent phone call from housemate Joe Price. He warned her not to come back to the house on Swann Street.
On the witness stand Wednesday, Morgan, who lived in the home’s basement apartment, testified that she was constantly hounding the gay trouple upstairs, Price and his domestic partners Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward, to remember to lock the door.
One day that same summer, in fact, she recalled finding the home’s front door slightly ajar, with a set of keys dangling from the lock. “Did you later find out it was Mr. Price who left his keys in the door?” defense attorney Bernie Grimm asked. “Yes, I did,” Morgan replied.
She never moved back into the house on Swann Street. Her former housemates now stand accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of D.C. attorney Robert Wone.
The same night Morgan took off to hang out with Tom and John, police found Wone’s body, streaked with stab wounds and puncture marks, on a pull-out sofa in an upstairs guest room. The bed covers were pulled down underneath him at a precise 45-degree angle, not unlike the meticulous way the housemates might have done it themselves—except theirs would look “tighter and crisper,” Morgan testified, examining photos of the crime scene.
Her former housemates insist that an unknown intruder broke into the home and killed their friend that night. Prosecutors accuse the trio of wiping down Wone’s body and perhaps substituting a second knife for the actual murder weapon in attempt to confuse investigators and cover up the true nature of the killing. Murder charges have never been filed.Morgan testified Wednesday that building contractors, as well as a local maid service, also had keys to the place. So did Price’s brother, Michael Price.
When she moved into the house on Swann Street the prior summer, Morgan said Michael Price was there to help. “I had asked [Joe Price] whether Michael would have a key to the home,” she testified. The other housemates, Ward and Zaborsky, had told her of Michael Price’s alleged cocaine and alcohol problems, she said. Zaborsky had also mentioned that Michael Price previously had been fired from a shoe store after allegedly shoplifting on the job, she said. Joe Price assured that his brother didn’t have a key.
Prosecutors have hinted none too subtly that the housemates could be covering up for Michael Price. But Michael Price has not been charged in the case.
Morgan said she later found out from Joe Price that his brother did indeed have a key. She said she wasn’t pleased.
Two months after the murder, prosecutors point out that Michael Price used his key to get into the house on Swann Street and swipe electronics. Morgan said she found out about the burglary after reading all about it in the Washington Post.
The morning after the murder, Morgan testified that she received a phone call from Michael Price at around 7:30 a.m. She said he asked her for the phone number of John Nassikas, an attorney at his brother Joe Price’s firm. On cross-examination by the defense, Morgan noted, however, that the lawerly colleagues were also friends and might have reason to meet socially.
Defense attorney Grimm showed her crime-scene photos from outside the house on Swann Street, specifically of a trash can, turned over, abutting a shed in the backyard, which he suggested could have been utilized to circumvent a seven-foot fence enclosing the property. Morgan agreed the haphazard manner in which the can was found seemed uncharacteristic of the usually tidy housemates. Grimm then showed her photographs of a pair of sunglasses recovered from the roof of that shed. Morgan said the shades didn’t look like the kind belonging to any of the defendants.
Morgan further testified that a Swann Street neighbor also reported a burglary that same summer by someone who entered through the alley. Morgan said she and the neighbor, Chuck Wolf, had “a very brief discussion” about the break-in.
Staff photo by Alex Burchfield and Kim Chi Ha