HARTFORD, Conn. — Michelle Troconis’ defense attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, and prosecutors argued again this week over their efforts to disqualify each other from her murder conspiracy case in a dispute over the handling of a contested letter.
The lawyers met privately in Superior Court in Stamford and appeared in court briefly on Wednesday. Judge Gary J. White said he may order a hearing early next year before settling the argument with a ruling about whether prosecutors improperly — if inadvertently — obtained a confidential communication between defense lawyers.
Troconis was living in Farmington with contractor Fotis Dulos in 2019 when he was accused of murdering his estranged wife, Jennifer Farber Dulos, at her home in New Canaan. Her body has never been found, and Dulos committed suicide before he could be tried.
Prosecutors have charged Troconis with conspiring with Dulos to commit murder and hinder the police investigation by disposing of evidence. Prosecution filings in court accuse her of accompanying Dulos the day his wife disappeared as he dumped clothes and other evidence that has been tied to a murder into trash bins in Hartford. Troconis, who has homes in Florida and Colorado, was in the courthouse this week.
Troconis has pleaded not guilty and was scheduled to be tried late this year until the case was sidetracked by the ongoing argument over a box containing a sweatshirt, a screwdriver, a wrench and the contested letter written by Schoenhorn to another defense lawyer. No one connected with the case will talk about where the box and its contents came from.
Regardless of whether prosecutors obtained the letter inadvertently, Schoenhorn argues it was a privileged communication having to do with his defense of Troconis. The prosecutors should have known they were not entitled to the letter, Schoenhorn said, and they should be removed as a sanction for its wider distribution.
The prosecution has responded by saying the letter isn’t privileged and demanding that Schoenhorn be disqualified from defending Troconis at her trial because they intend to call him as a witness to testify about where he got the box and its contents.
Police and prosecutors are interested in the sweatshirt because they have security camera video containing indistinct images of someone wearing what could be a similar sweatshirt while riding a bicycle near Farber’s home at about the time she is believed to have been killed on the morning of May 24, 2019.
The police theory of the crime is that Dulos drove from Farmington to New Canaan, bicycled the last mile or so to Farber’s house, laid in wait and killed her when she returned from taking their five children to school. The couple was involved in a bitter divorce and custody dispute.
Schoenhorn claims the video from home security cameras along the bike route is of such poor quality that even the sex of the bicycle rider cannot be determined. He said he may use the sweatshirt as defense evidence because there is DNA on it that has been traced to someone other than Dulos, meaning it is evidence that tends to clear Dulos and, by extension, Troconis.
From what has become public in court, it appears that Schoenhorn obtained the box and its contents from a former Troconis lawyer. Where it was before that is not explained. Schoenhorn turned the box over to then-lawyer and now Superior Court Judge Tara Knight, who he claims to have retained “to act on a discrete issue … on behalf of Michelle Troconis.” With the box was a letter of explanation containing information the defense considers confidential, according to the court filings.
In March 2021, Knight turned over the box and its contents to state police detectives assigned to the Troconis case, according to the court filings. Nothing has become public to explain why the box was given to the Troconis detectives. In a new filing this week, Schoenhorn claims that, during the handover, his confidential letter was “inadvertently” left in the box.
Schoenhorn argues that the only way to correct the dissemination of a privileged defense communication is dismissal of the charges against Troconis or removal from the case of anyone on the prosecution team familiar with the contents.
In its legal papers, the prosecution argues that if there is legal privilege protecting the confidentiality of the letter, the privilege is between Schoenhorn and Knight and does not extend to Troconis. In that case, the prosecutors argue they should not be removed. Schoenhorn should be disqualified, prosecutors argue, because he cannot defend Troconis while testifying for the prosecution about the sweatshirt introduced as evidence against her.
Schoenhorn said he has spent more than 1,000 hours over nearly three years on her defense and if he is removed Troconis will be denied her right to be defended by a lawyer of her choice.
White asked both sides to provide him with additional information.©2022 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.