City Desk

Did Wone Witness Mistake Vicky Mabrey for Maureen Bunyan?

Robert Wone PostersWilliam Thomas, a slight, silver-haired and amber-colored man with a methodical way of speaking, took the stand early in the senational trial of three Dupont Circle men accused of covering up the 2006 murder of D.C. attorney Robert Wone. (A verdict is expected early next week.) Thomas told the judge he heard "a desperation scream" come from his neighbors' house the night of the murder. He was able to estimate the time of the shriek at between 11 and 11:30 p.m., based on the voice of newscaster Maureen Bunyan. Thomas and his wife are big fans of the WJLA-TV anchor, who comes on nightly for the 11 o'clock newscast. Thomas said he could hear his wife watching Bunyan in the background when the scream occurred.

Thomas seems a linchpin to the prosecution's case, as defendants Joseph Price, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky didn't place a 911 call about the overnight guest who'd been stabbed at their house at 1509 Swann Street NW until about 11:49 p.m., leaving plenty of time between the scream to the 911 call to concoct the alleged coverup plot they're accused of.

Entering an episode of the ABC program Nightline as evidence this week, Thomas Connolly, a lawyer for the defense, claims "dear old Mr. Thomas" is mistaken. He didn't hear Bunyan that night, Connolly said, he heard Nightline presenter Vicki Mabrey, who was on the same channel a bit later.

Starting at 11:45 p.m., on August 2, 2006, the night of Wone's slaying, the female journalist was broadcasting a segment about record summer temperatures.  Thomas' wife admits she left the TV on past 11:30 p.m.

Connolly wanted to play segments of Bunyan's voice and Mabrey's voice in court to see if Thomas could tell the difference. But Judge Lynn Leibovitz called the proposal a "stunt" and didn't permit it.

Herewith, video of both Mabrey and Bunyan. Close your eyes and see if you can tell the difference:

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • JP

    No way. Mabry's voice is higher and not as rich as Bunyan's.

  • DB

    They're not so dissimilar as to not be mistaken, though--particularly if in the context of a news report.

    A time estimate based on an overheard television program identified only by the voice of the person overheard (as opposed to content) is somewhat weak.

  • foldingtime

    I don't understand what a "scream" has to do with the two newscasters' respective voices. A scream is a scream.

    Either way, the defendant's lawyers' characterization of that witness's testimony is insulting, to say the least--indeed, verging on ageism. There are other ways to question a witness's testimony.

  • Vira

    Wow. That is much, much closer voice match than I would have expected. Brilliant catch by the defense attorneys. I think it is very reasonable to suggest that a listener, listening from a distance, from another room, out of view, could EASILY have mistaken the two, particularly if the witness's hearing is impaired by age or infirmity. (Wasn't the witness >75?)

    Re: the scream--the prosecution was attempting to establish when the witness heard a scream. The witness claimed to've heard the scream when Maureen Bunyan was speaking, i.e. before 11:35, which is when the newscast for which she is a newsreader is broadcast. This affects the prosecution's theory that the defendants waited (~19 minutes) to call police, which prosecutors theorize gave the defendants time to clean up what would have been a massive blood loss, cleaning the victim's body and the room where he was murdered of almost all blood and DNA evidence; dispose of the bedding on which he was murdered; dispose of the original knife with which he was stabbed and substitute another knife; shower themselves and remove any blood or DNA evidence from their bodies; then plan and co-ordinate all the details of a lie that they would have to tell police interrogators in separate interrogations.

    The defense is attempting to suggest the possibility that the elderly witness may have in fact heard a similar voice iduring the NEXT program (ABC's Nightline) which would've occcured AFTER 11:35 on the night in question. That would compress the timeline further from an implausible 19 minutes, to as little as 3-5 minutes and would fatally weaken the prosecution's theory of the murder.

    The defense has systematically picked apart every theory that prosecutors have slung out there, not matter how bizarre or improbable. The judge should've allowed the witness's ability to discern the difference between thsese two speakers to've been tested. The fact that she didn't suggests that the prosecution's 'timestamp' is in serious question to begin with.

  • Typical DC BS

    The defense is coming up with any lamebrain excuse they can think of (typical high-paid shyster). Sure, they can throw out all the weird explanations they want and try to obscure what is plain as the nose on your face (just like in the OJ trial - his lawyers came up with incredible excuses that California morons couldn't see past to the facts - OJ DID IT). It still comes down to the fact that with three guys in the house, a tenant downstairs in the basement apartment and only one door unlocked (supposedly), the defense says a killer figured out which door was unlocked, came in, stabbed some guy who didn't live there, then disappeared without leaving a big mess or stealing anything.

    Common sense tells you that these three twerps know what happened and either killed this poor guy or know who did it, hence the charges against them.

  • Doubtful

    Common sense would also tell most people that "straight" guys don't often end up with semen up their butt holes, in fact even for gay guys that would be a stretch.
    In other words, common sense is often wrong.

    I say there is every possibility it was an Internet hook up gone bad a la the Betts case. Certainly as plausible as three guys brutally murdering a long time friend after a raucous night of barbecuing and tap water consumption.

  • una jane

    This is absolutely ridiculous - how can you not allow the sex toys and habits of gay men into the court room? People have been convicted on 1% of the evidence you have on these men. What a shame for our justice system. Who leaves their doors unlocked in the District of Columbia? How convenient!

  • Sa Wardja

    Oh, Vira, you were obviously there that night (is Vira your drag name now?) Why don't you just tell the truth about the whole matter? It's the right thing to do, if Robert was indeed your "friend".

    The voices sound nothing alike, other than being female. And especially to anyone who has heard one or both for over 30 years, it's impossible to mistake them.

  • WardQueen

    Still weird about Robert Wone's semen being up his own butt hole. How does that happen? Also, according to The Blade Wone took his wife to Mimi's for their first date.
    A straight guy into show tunes? Can't say it doesn't happen but still?

    An Internet hook up explains a whole lot.