Michelle Troconis opts not to testify in her own trial, defense rests

The defense rested its case on Friday at the Michelle Troconis trial, with Troconis choosing not to go on the stand.

Marissa Alter

Feb 23, 2024, 11:30 PM

Updated 57 days ago

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The defense rested its case Friday in the trial of Michelle Troconis with the defendant choosing not taking the stand. Troconis, who’s charged in the disappearance and presumed death of Jennifer Dulos, used a Spanish interpreter to answer questions from the judge regarding her decision not to testify. Judge Kevin Randolph concluded Troconis’ choice was made “knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently.”
Defense attorney Jon Schoenhorn spoke about the decision outside the courthouse and pointed to the police interviews the jury watched as the reason.
“There is nothing she could add that she didn't already add in those hours of questioning,” Schoenhorn told reporters.
Instead, Schoenhorn called Viorica Marian as one of the defense’s final witnesses. Marian is a university professor and psychologist who studies how speaking more than one language can influence brain functions, including memory, attention and decision making.
Troconis grew up in South America and speaks Spanish as her native language. Marion told the jury she analyzed Troconis' hours of interviews with police and determined she only had a medium proficiency in English. She explained how she came to that conclusion.
“I looked for intrusions of Spanish words—multiple instances of Spanish words being used while she was speaking English to native English speakers—Spanish grammar while speaking English and incorrect English grammar, specifically asking what a word meant, complexity level of her speech in English being of a low proficiency and being uncertain how to follow some directions,” Marian stated. Marian said even if a person has conversational ability, that doesn't mean there aren't miscommunications. She used an analogy to try to explain what a bilingual person’s brain goes through.
“If you look at a duck gliding on the water and she looks very calm, just sort of beautifully gliding, but underneath she's sort of peddling very past, this is sort of what a bilingual and multilingual brain does. It seems like it's functioning just like a person who speaks one language, but in reality, it's constantly juggling multiple languages, inhibiting one, facilitating the other,” Marian told the jury.
That's what the defense believes happened when Troconis was questioned about the disappearance of her then-boyfriend's estranged wife.
“The takeaway from the testimony is even if a person has what you or I would consider a conversational ability to speak in a foreign language, that doesn't mean they understand everything. there's deficits,” Schoenhorn said after court. “The purpose was to allow the jury to at least understand that for all those hours that Michelle Troconis was being interrogated, she had a medium level of proficiency, which would at least suggest some level of misunderstanding or lack of accurate communication and recitation during hours of questioning.”
Troconis is accused of plotting with Fotis Dulos to kill Jennifer Dulos, then helping him try to hide the crime. The prosecution has pointed to Troconis’ inconsistent statements as proof, including giving Fotis Dulos a fake alibi for the morning of May 24, 2019. Police believe Fotis Dulos used an employee’s truck to drive from Farmington to New Canaan, where he violently attacked Jennifer Dulos in her garage, then disposed of her body. Jennifer Dulos has never been found, but a judge declared her legally dead. On cross examination of Marian, Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Manning honed in Marian making her assessments of Troconis’ proficiency solely from videos and transcripts and not from meeting Troconis.
"How proficient in a second language do you need to be to lie?" Manning asked. Schoenhorn objected before Marian could answer.
Manning also pointed out Fotis Dulos, whom Troconis lived with, didn’t speak Spanish. The defense also called one of Troconis' close friends, in part to contradict the prosecution's suggestion Troconis was burning evidence. The jury saw surveillance footage of the home she shared with Fotis Dulos which showed smoke coming from the chimney at three separate times in the afternoon and evening of the day Jennifer Dulos vanished. The prosecution pointed to it as odd given it was the Friday before Memorial Day.
But Clara "Petu" Duperron told the jury she often went to Troconis’ home, and she routinely had fires going, even when it was warm outside.
“It was a relaxing moment, like maybe not to heat the house, but a good moment to share with someone drinking wine or tea,” Duperron testified.
Duperron, whose native language is Spanish, also said she was on the phone with Troconis multiple times on May 24, 2019, and she sounded normal, not nervous or distressed. During cross-examination, the prosecution grilled Duperron about her refusal to speak with police years ago about the case.
“I didn't refuse to speak with them. I said if they want, they can subpoena me so I could go and talk with an interpreter,” Duperron stated.
“Actually, isn't it true you indicated you would be happy to answer any questions you have for me via email?” Manning shot back.
“Yes, because I felt more comfortable also because of my language. It's easier for me to write than to speak,” Duperron said.
Manning brought up that Duperron claimed at the time that she had information that would hurt the state’s case and prove Troconis’ innocence.
“You felt you had information that could help your friend, correct?” Manning asked.
“Yes,” Duperron responded.
“Your ‘inseparable, beautiful friendship?’” Manning pressed.
“Yes,” Duperron said.
“And five years since 2019 and three years since you've been contacted by the police, you kept that to yourself?” Manning asked.
“Yes, because I didn't trust the police,” Duperron said, adding that she would never go to the media with it. Duperron didn’t reveal what the information was while on the stand.
She joined Troconis’ loved ones as they left the courthouse and presented a united front. The group included Troconis’ teenage daughter.
“I was waiting for this day for five years, and it finally came, and Michelle Troconis is innocent,” Duperron told reporters.
“The state still did not prove that my sister was connected in any of this, and my sister's attorneys did prove that she had nothing to do with any of this,” Claudia Troconis stated.
Troconis has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering, conspiracy to commit evidence tampering and hindering prosecution. She is the first of the remaining defendants in the case to go to trial. Fotis Dulos died by suicide in January 2020 while facing charges including murder and kidnapping in the case. His friend and former attorney, Kent Mawhinney, was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder and is awaiting trial. Mawhinney had been on the prosecution’s list to potentially testify against Troconis but did not take the stand.
Instead, for 25 days, prosecutors called dozens of witnesses including state police, forensic scientists, the nanny for the five Dulos children and the attorney that represented them in their parents’ contentious custody battle. They also called Pawel Gumienny, Fotis Dulos’ former employee, whose red Toyota Tacoma Fotis Dulos allegedly used in the murder of Jennifer Dulos. Gumienny testified that Fotis Dulos took the truck to be detailed, unbeknownst to Gumienny, and pressured him to remove the truck’s seats.
Prosecutors also introduced about 150 exhibits including lots of videos—not just of the police interviews but security camera footage showing Fotis Dulos dumping garbage bags along Albany Avenue in Hartford with Troconis as a passenger in his truck. The prosecution presented evidence police recovered from those garbage bags including Jennifer Dulos’ blood-soaked shirt and bra. A forensic scientist testified a few cells of Troconis’ DNA were found on the opening of one of the bags.
Attorneys from both sides will meet with the judge Monday regarding jury instructions. Closing arguments are set for Tuesday at 10 a.m.
The judge also ruled Friday that a contempt hearing for Troconis will now take place on March 5 and will be heard by a different judge. Troconis will be represented by a different attorney in that hearing. It’s in regards to allegations by the prosecution that Troconis had a court-sealed custody report displayed on her laptop during the trial.


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