Trial in Jennifer Dulos case to begin in January; jury selection starts next week
Michelle Troconis, the woman charged in connection to the disappearance and presumed death of Jennifer Dulos, won’t go on trial until Jan. 8, but jury selection in the case will still begin Oct. 4. Judge Kevin Randolph said that once a jury is chosen, they’ll be on hold until next year. Randolph’s decision Monday came despite objections from the defense.
“Picking a jury up to three months before the start of evidence is going to be for all practical purposes somewhat of an impossibility. We could pick a jury, and we're going to lose half of them with exposure to publicity over Thanksgiving, over Christmas, over New Year’s,” said attorney Jon Schoenhorn. “We will not only be having to pick more jurors in January, but that will delay the trial even further.”
Schoenhorn's motion for a speedy trial was granted earlier this month with Randolph setting jury selection for next week.
Troconis has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering, hindering prosecution, and conspiracy to commit evidence tampering in the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos on May 24, 2019. Police believe the mother of five was killed in her home in New Canaan by her estranged husband. Fotis Dulos was Troconis' boyfriend at the time, and the two lived together in his home in Farmington. He died by suicide, leaving Troconis and alleged co-conspirator Kent Mawhinney, Fotis Dulos’ friend and former attorney, as the remaining defendants.
But at a hearing in Stamford Superior Court Monday, Schoenhorn said the gap of time between jury selection and the trial poses problems beyond pretrial publicity. He stressed he was always under the impression the trial would begin in the fall and told potential witnesses that.
“If we're going to have jury selection, which is probably going to take at least a month and perhaps longer, and then have a break for a couple of months and then start over again, that poses both a financial and a personal burden to my client,” Schoenhorn told the court, noting Troconis has a teenage daughter she has to arrange care for. He also said he’d postponed other clients’ cases until next year thinking this case would be done this year.
The delay is due to several motions filed by the defense questioning evidence seized by police and procedures they used in the case. Suppression motions filed by Schoenhorn include cellular tower dumps, electronic devices, DNA samples, Troconis’ statements to police and the method of executing the search warrant at 4 Jefferson Crossing. Those have to be argued and ruled on before the trial can begin.
“Some of them are going to be fairly lengthy. For example, the defendant’s statements total approximately eight hours if they were to run continuously without any testimony or cross-examination. So, I expect that motion to suppress alone could take upwards of three or four days,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Sean McGuinness. “At the end of the day, they asked for this, for the speedy trial. We were trying to progress. We were actually—the informal conversations between the parties were that we were working toward a January start date for jury selection and the trial, and then they filed the speedy trial motion.”
Schoenhorn proposed pausing the speedy trial countdown until the date in January and doing jury selection then, immediately followed by the trial. He also suggested moving the trial date to November so there would be a shorter interim between jury selection and the start of evidence.
State prosecutors weren't on board. McGuinness said he thinks choosing a jury now would allow the judge to reinforce the need to avoid news about the case and help keep jurors from being exposed to pretrial publicity.
“I think the court can take precautions to prevent any potential juror who's selected, such as advising them to avoid any and all media about the case, for example, which is a standard instruction in any event. I actually think that selecting the jury now can sort of reinforce that principle,” countered McGuinness. “By having these jurors who are selected—who are now under an oath to essentially not watch media coverage, or they will be under an oath. That’s actually an appropriate precaution that the court can take.”
The judge agreed and also said extra alternate jurors would be chosen to counter for the potential that jurors may have to drop out in the interim.
Schoenhorn also filed a motion for a 12-person jury. In Connecticut, that's the norm for Class A felonies like murder. But Troconis isn’t on trial for murder. She’s charged with Class B, C, and D felonies, which are typically tried by a jury of six. That motion was not argued Monday.
Instead, both sides continued arguments over Schoenhorn’s motion to dismiss evidence from the search of 4 Jefferson Crossing due to how police executed the search warrant. Schoenhorn argued the search was unreasonable and went beyond the scope of what the warrant allowed.
“This was a rummaging of the entire house,” Schoenhorn stated.
Retired Sgt. Matthew Reilly testified Monday that he was assigned as the evidence officer during the execution of the search warrant at the Farmington home. Reilly said he was there from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., during which 23 items were seized from the home, 20 of which were digital devices.