Multiday suppression hearing begins in Dulos defendant’s case ahead of trial

Michelle Troconis faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder, tampering with physical evidence, hindering the prosecution, and conspiracy to tamper with physical evidence in connection to the disappearance.

Marissa Alter

Dec 11, 2023, 10:34 AM

Updated 224 days ago


Michelle Troconis, who’s charged in the 2019 disappearance and presumed death of Jennifer Dulos, returned to Stamford Superior Court Monday, ahead of her January trial, for a multiday hearing to determine what evidence jurors will see and hear. Troconis has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering, conspiracy to evidence tamper and hindering prosecution. Jennifer Dulos’ mother, sister and other loved ones, including family spokesperson Carrie Luft, were at court for the hearing.
The whole week has been blocked off to take up motions from Troconis’ attorney to get evidence thrown out in the case. That included wrapping up arguments Monday on the defense’s motion to suppress anything from Troconis’ cell phone after it was seized without a warrant. Most of the testimony on that motion was heard on Sept. 13. Police seized Troconis’s cellphone on May 31, 2019, a week after Jennifer Dulos was last seen dropping her kids off at school in New Canaan. The phone seizure came while police served a search warrant at 4 Jefferson Crossing in Farmington, the home where Troconis lived with her then-boyfriend, Fotis Dulos, who was going through a bitter divorce at the time with Jennifer Dulos.
Attorney Jon Schoenhorn argued Monday that it was unconstitutional for police to take Troconis’ cell phone without a search warrant. But Connecticut State Police Sgt. Michael Beauton testified that police took Troconis’ phone under exigent circumstances. Beauton said they believed it had information connected to Jennifer Dulos’ disappearance and were concerned about the potential for evidence on it to be destroyed if they waited for a warrant.
Beauton also testified that just prior to going to the Farmington home, he’d reviewed video from Albany Avenue in Hartford that showed a woman believed to be Troconis with Fotis Dulos as he allegedly dumped evidence connected to the crime.
“It's been established there was more than enough probable cause,” argued Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Manning, adding that from Beauton’s training and experience, he knew that phones contain a plethora of information that can easily be erased.
Manning also pointed out that though the phone was seized on May 31, police didn’t conduct a forensic search of the phone until a search warrant was obtained on June 6.
Schoenhorn disagreed there were exigent circumstances and said nothing on security camera footage from Albany Avenue showed Troconis disposing of evidence.
“In my opinion, that’s not the law. That’s never been the law. It's certainly not the law in Connecticut, and I would say it's an unconstitutional argument,” Schoenhorn told News 12 during a recess from court. “Mere presence or living with someone does not make you guilty of any kind of crime—not as an accessory, not as co-conspirator.”
Schoenhorn said there was nothing incriminating on Troconis’ phone, “but in the absence of a warrant, you can’t just grab people’s phones because it might be ‘helpful’ to an investigation.
Judge Kevin Randolph told both sides he’d issue a written ruling on that motion by Thursday.
Then it was on to the real focus of the next several days—the defense’s attempt to suppress all of Troconis’ interviews with police. Schoenhorn wrote in his motion that part of the reason for suppression is because English isn't Troconis’ first language and a Spanish interpreter was not provided during any of the interviews.
Monday afternoon, State Police Sgt. Robert Hazen, who was a detective on the Jennifer Dulos case, testified about his involvement in the investigation, particularly his initial arrest of Troconis and transport of her from a hotel in Avon to the New Canaan Police Department on June 1.
During his testimony, Hazen said Troconis never suggested she had trouble with the English language or requested an interpreter during the car ride. Video from the transport was then played in court.
It showed Troconis clearly distressed, putting her hands over her face. It also showed another officer advise Troconis of her Miranda rights and Hazen still try to talk to her. The audio was very difficult to make out, but Shoenhorn called what happened “a blatant constitutional violation.”
He told News 12, Hazen tried to get Troconis to waive her right to counsel after she’d asserted it. Schoenhorn also said the arrest warrant order was for Troconis to be taken to Hartford, not New Canaan.
“So, we will be finding out who came up with the scheme to drag her in the middle of the night from her daughter and take her to New Canaan, and then the interrogation starting at one or two in the morning and then breaking and picking up the next day,” Schoenhorn said of what’s to come with Hazen testifying.
Schoenhorn also told News 12 there’s nothing of an incriminating nature in any of Troconis’ interviews, but “if a statement was unlawfully obtained, it shouldn't come into evidence. It's as simple as that.”
According to Troconis’ arrest warrant, she repeatedly told police that Fotis Dulos was with her on the morning of May 24 when Jennifer Dulos disappeared when he wasn’t.
But Schoenhorn disputes that Troconis ever lied, saying any misstatements may have been language-related, due to fatigue or because police kept cutting Troconis off and “mansplaining” to her.
Those interviews with police will be played out in court over the next week.
The hearing Monday morning began with the judge excusing two people who’d been chosen to be part of the six-person jury and six alternates. One was excused because he doesn’t live in Connecticut. The other was excused due to elder care issues that have come up and would prevent him from serving, given the trial is expected to start Jan 8 and last through March 1.
Troconis is the first of the two remaining defendants to go to trial. Fotis Dulos died by suicide in January 2020, while facing charges including murder and kidnapping in the case. Police believe Fotis Dulos killed Jennifer Dulos in her garage, then disposed of her body, which has never been found. His friend and former attorney, Kent Mawhinney, has also been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and pleaded not guilty.

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