Slain lawyers mourned at emotional service

May 22, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

CHEVY CHASE -- If such a thing were possible, Jose Trias and Julie Gilbert were the kind of people who could have dealt with their own violent deaths, their friends and family said yesterday. They would have understood, had compassion and sympathized with the killer.

It was not so easy for those who knew the couple, who were found shot to death last week in their retreat in Arnold. "Julie and Jose could find the silver lining in any cloud that came their way," said Joseph Gilbert, Ms. Gilbert's brother. "I have looked very hard, but there is no silver lining in this tragedy."

Lewis H. Ferguson III, a friend of Ms. Gilbert, told the mourners not to "let this unspeakable act, that they would have sympathized with, give way to cynicism, bitterness and despair."

About 500 people attended the private memorial service held in a conservatory at the secluded Howard Hughes Medical Institute off Connecticut Avenue, where Mr. Trias was vice president and general counsel.

Only print reporters were allowed to cover the service, on conditions set by Hughes officials that they only observe and ask no questions. Photographers were barred.

Those who spoke at the service tried to sum up lives seen as too complex to be captured in words.

"It seems to me that some people love others for something," Mr. Gilbert said. "They give their love with terms and conditions attached. Julie's love was the purest love. It carried no conditions."

Those were the first public remarks by a relative of either victim since a handyman found them Monday afternoon lying on their bed, each with a bullet wound to the back of the head.

On Friday, Scotland Williams, 31, of the 800 block of Bradford Ave. in Arnold, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was arrested after he allegedly used one of Mr. Trias' credit cards to withdraw money at bank machines in Glen Burnie and Elkridge while driving Ms. Gilbert's dark red Acura Legend.

Mr. Trias, 49, was a legal scholar who worked for the Hughes Institute, the largest private philanthropy in the country with $7 billion in assets. It funds basic medical research.

Colleagues called Ms. Gilbert, 48, one of the country's top 10 tax attorneys dealing with tax-exempt organizations. She worked at an international law firm in downtown Washington.

Both had an intense love of law, music, art, history and science. The couple, married nine years, lived in Bethesda and spent most weekends at their $725,000 Arnold house on the banks of the Severn River in the 1600 block of Father Urban Lane.

Yesterday, friends remembered the good times. They told stories of how Ms. Gilbert worked one summer as a go-go dancer to pay her way through college and how she gave up a summer internship while at Harvard to live in a hut in Kentucky and offer free legal services to unemployed coal miners.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, she delayed private practice to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she helped draft legislation for low-income

housing.

"Julie cultivated friends as a good gardener cultivates a garden," said Lewis Ferguson, who knew her in law school. He said she always sent out cards, not just for major holidays, but for Arbor Day and President's Day. "Julie was simply the best friend the American Greeting Card company ever had," he said.

Mr. Trias was described as an avid pianist who could fill a New Year's Eve party with Mozart, who could in one sentence sum up a complex tax problem in a mathematic equation, who loved to explain the theory of relativity and laughed as his son Alex, now attending Yale Law School, listened to punk rock music.

Mr. Trias met Ms. Gilbert while the two represented clients fighting over the appraisal of gemstones being donated to the Smithsonian. "She was fierce, Jose told me the next day," recalled friend Nicholas B. Deane. "He said, 'I want to see her again.' "

Trying to come to terms with the killings was hard for many speakers. They read poems, quoted literature, and recited prayers.

"The person who ended their lives robbed you and me and the world of two extraordinary people," said Jean Ephron, a friend of Ms. Gilbert. "In a world fraught with trouble, cosmic and mundane, they made life better for everyone they touched."

Quoting from the poem, "Desiderata," one of the couple's favorites, one friend tried to look at the killing through their eyes. "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams," the last stanza reads, "it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

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