Wint, 41, was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder in the May 2015 killings of Savvas and Amy Savopoulos; their 10-year-old son, Philip; and Veralicia Figueroa. All four were found beaten and stabbed to death inside the family’s Woodley Park home, which had been set on fire.
The case came to be known as the “mansion murders.”
The additional witness relates to the testimony of one of Wint’s brothers, who Wint’s attorneys claimed were the real culprits in the killings.
Defense attorney Lee Goebes, with the D.C. Public Defender Service, argued to a three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals panel Wednesday that because prosecutors provided evidence of a partial alibi for one of the brothers, in the rebuttal phase of the trial, defense attorneys should have been allowed to call an additional witness that might have discredited that alibi in the eyes of the jury.
The whereabouts of the brother, Darrell Wint, was a “new matter” in the trial, Goebes argued and, therefore, Daron Wint was entitled to a rare additional phase of the trial, called a “sur-rebuttal” to present the additional witness.
Nicholas Coleman, assistant U.S. attorney, argued the evidence against Daron Wint was overwhelming — including DNA evidence on the crust of a pizza that had been delivered to the Savopoulos family’s lavish home in Northwest D.C. over the course of the 22 hours the victims were held captive.
Coleman said the trial judge had the discretion to not allow an additional phase of the trial and that a defendant was not entitled to sur-rebuttal.
“In the context of the entire trial, given the what we do believe was overwhelming evidence against” Daron Wint, “this is not the issue that would have caused the jury to question that evidence against appellant,” Coleman said.
The appeals court will decide whether the trial judge erred and if that warrants a new trial.
The decision will be in a written opinion at a future date.
Daron Wint is serving four life sentences in federal prison without the possibility of release.
During his closely watched 2018 trial in D.C. Superior Court, Daron Wint took the stand in his own defense and claimed his two brothers tricked him into going to the Savopoulos house on Woodland Drive and leaving behind DNA and other physical evidence.
After the defense rested its case, the prosecution presented a rebuttal case, seeking to undercut Daron Wint’s testimony and providing alibi evidence for one of the brothers during the two days the victims were held captive.
For example, prosecutors presented the testimony of a friend who told jurors Darrell Wint was at his house in Gaithersburg, Maryland, watching a friend’s original music video that was uploaded to YouTube on the same day the crime unfolded in Northwest D.C.
However, Daron Wint’s attorneys argued the additional defense witness would have “strongly cast doubt” on Darrell Wint’s alibi, because a woman who lived at that same Gaithersburg house said Darrell Wint usually called or texted before he stopped by, and phone records show the only calls or text between the two were several days after the killings.
The trial judge blocked defense attorneys from calling the additional witness, saying her testimony was equivocal and that defense attorneys had the opportunity to call her in their own case and hadn’t done so.
During oral arguments Thursday, both the attorneys and the appeals court judges agreed case law about a defendant’s right to a sur-rebuttal was far from settled.
Chief Judge of the Appeals Court Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, who sat on the panel, said she had “conceptual trouble with the notion” that the brother’s whereabouts were a new matter when they had been a “central theme” of the defense’s case.
In addition, the witness the defense was blocked from calling didn’t seem to “squarely refute” the brother’s testimony, Blackburne-Rigsby said.
Judge Catharine Easterly, however, suggested the additional witness could have raised doubts about the brother’s alibi.
“Unless we’re talking about what a new matter is in some really super artificial, contrived, formalistic way, I’m trying to understand why that wouldn’t be a new issue to show that the third-party perpetrator suspect is lying about where he is the morning of the crime,” Easterly said.
Daron Wint’s murder trial was the subject of the WTOP original podcast, “22 Hours: An American Nightmare,” released in 2019.