Fotis Dulos pleaded not guilty, posted bail and walked out of a Stamford courthouse Tuesday, hours after a state prosecutor announced that investigators had found Dulos’ DNA mixed with that of his missing wife, Jennifer Farber Dulos, in her New Canaan home. A short while later, in family court, Dulos refused to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a brief hearing over the custody of their five children.
The dramatic day in court culminated when Dulos, 51, still dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and surrounded by court security and state police, emerged from Stamford Superior Court, got into a car, and headed back to the Farmington house that has been the focus of an intense state police search since the May 24 disappearance of Farber Dulos.
Dulos’ live-in girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, 44, also pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution during a two-minute court appearance in the same courthouse. She has been free on $500,000 bail since June 3 and was seen last week walking with state police detectives around the grounds of the Jefferson Crossing home in Farmington she shares with Dulos.
Tuesday’s court hearing was also the first time Dulos publicly fought the allegations against him with his new attorney, Norm Pattis, attacking the state’s case as weak during a contentious bond hearing before Judge John F. Blawie.
"Dulos has been tried and convicted for a crime that he hasn’t even been charged for,” Pattis said. “I’m somewhat surprised that we are even here at all since we’ve been able to account for almost all of his time that day.”
It was during the bond hearing that Stamford/Norwalk State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo announced that recent lab results from police investigators showed the DNA of Dulos mixed with Farber Dulos’ blood on a faucet in the kitchen of Farber Dulos’ New Canaan home.
Colangelo strongly objected to the bail reduction for Dulos and asked Blawie instead to raise the bond to $850,000. He told the judge there was no explanation for Dulos’ blood to be on the faucet. Colangelo said that while Dulos had been at the New Canaan home on May 22, two days before Dulos’ wife disappeared, visiting his children for dinner, witnesses told police he never entered the home and therefore could not have left blood on the faucet that night. He said the search for Farber Dulos is “a fluid investigation” and new evidence is coming in every day.
Blawie kept bail at $500,000 for Dulos, and ordered that he turn in his passport and wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS monitoring device that Troconis also is required to wear. The judge continued Troconis’ case to July 18. Dulos is expected to appear in court again on Aug. 2.
Pattis had pushed to have Dulos’ bail reduced to $100,000, saying the state’s case was weak and that he doubted his client would ever be charged with murder. He asked if the case could go to trial next month.
Pattis said that while the state put information about some of Dulos’ cellphone records for where he was after 1 p.m. on May 24 in the arrest warrant affidavit for Dulos’ arrest, authorities have refused to say what his movements were that morning even though they have his cellphone.
Pattis said that they can account for most of Dulos’ time on the morning Farber Dulos disappeared.
“There’s a narrow window of time that is unaccounted for but it would not be possible for him to have come down here and commit this crime and go back home,” Pattis said.
Pattis also said New Canaan police illegally seized Dulos’ cellphone during their investigation, refusing to give it back to him after he came to the police department the day after Farber Dulos disappeared.
"This was not a seizure but a theft,” Pattis said.
The court appearances of Dulos and Troconis on Tuesday coincided with another search at a Hartford trash facility for clues to Farber Dulos’ whereabouts. Police also have spent the past two weeks searching Farmington-area properties owned by Dulos’ home building company, The Fore Group.
Ahead of the hearings, members of Troconis’ family, including her mother and uncle, sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery with her lawyer, Andrew Bowman.
Sources told The Courant Monday that police are aware Troconis was not in New Canaan on the day Farber Dulos went missing. Troconis has been cooperating with authorities and has told them she does not know what happened to Farber Dulos or her whereabouts.
Outside the Stamford courthouse Tuesday, the media presence was extensive with a number of television news crews waiting for Troconis and her family to come and go on Tuesday.
Also in Superior Court in Stamford Tuesday, attorneys in the two-year contentious custody battle between Farber Dulos and Dulos met with a judge.
Just hours after the hearing in criminal court and as his lawyers were still waiting for his passport to be delivered, Dulos, still clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, was called to the witness stand during a hearing in family court over a motion by his mother-in-law Gloria Farber to get temporary custody of the five children. But his lawyers said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Judge Donna Nelson Heller did not require Dulos to take the stand, but said taking the Fifth Amendment could have an adverse impact on her decision.
The hearing was on a motion by Gloria Farber, Farber Dulos’ mother, to intervene in the two-year long divorce proceedings as she continues to care for the couple’s five children in her New York City apartment. Her lawyer, Anne C. Dranginis, argued before Heller that Farber has given them a home and provided for them in the 18 days since their mother’s disappearance.
The children are “being nurtured and emotionally supported through this horrendous time in their lives,” Dranginis said.
The children’s guardian ad litem, Attorney Michael Meehan, testified that the children were being appropriately cared for by their grandmother.
An attorney for Dulos, Michael Rose, urged Heller not to make a ruling until more information was available. Heller did not rule during the hearing on the custody of the children. A protective order remains in place barring Fotis Dulos from contacting them now that he has posted bail.
A local probate court has granted temporary custody of the children to Farber, Dranginis said.
Farber Dulos’ family and friends thanked law enforcement for their continued efforts in a statement released Tuesday night, noting “the enormous human cost of this tragedy” weighs heaviest on the Dulos children.
“Jennifer’s family, friends, and above all her children are living in limbo — missing her embrace, her lilting laugh, her bedtime backrubs, her gentle strength,” the statement read. “Please know that the children are safe and loved and supported in every respect. But more than anything in the world, they long to know where their mother is.”
Both Dulos and Troconis are charged with tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution stemming from video Hartford police recovered showing a man that looked like Dulos throwing multiple garbage bags into trash receptacles on Albany Avenue the same night that Farber Dulos disappeared, court records said.
A woman resembling Troconis at one point is seen on video sitting in the passenger seat and either placing something on the ground or picking up an item as Dulos throws out the bags, according to court records. The documents don’t say what she placed on the ground and there is no video evidence that she handled any of the trash bags.
State police detectives rushed to Albany Avenue on May 31 and found some of the trash bags that Dulos had thrown out. Court records said DNA testing on some of the bloody clothes, towels and sponges in the bags matched Farber Dulos.
Police were too late to get some of the garbage and have spent the last week painstakingly searching through a mountain of trash at the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s trash-to-energy plant on Maxim Road in Hartford’s South Meadows. A corps of state police, using German Shepherd cadaver dogs, have been shifting through the garbage searching for more evidence.
They are expected to return to the trash plant Wednesday to continue that search.
In addition to the Albany Avenue neighborhood in Hartford, police also have searched locations in several towns, including Farber Dulos’ home in New Canaan, where she lives with her children, who range in age from 8 to 13, a park near her home where her vehicle was found and several properties in Farmington.
Farber Dulos was last seen dropping her children off at the New Canaan Country Day School around 8 a.m. May 24. Police believe that she was attacked in her Welles Avenue home sometime between 8 and 11 a.m. A cleaning woman entered the home around noon. Farber Dulos wasn’t reported missing until 7 p.m. that night. When New Canaan police entered the garage area of her home, they found dark stains believed to be blood on the floor as well blood spatter and evidence of a cleanup.
Farber Dulos’ black Chevy Suburban was found on Lapham Road near Waveny Park where at least three searches have taken place.
On Monday, New Canaan police said they created a website seeking tips on Farber Dulos’ whereabouts.
“In addition to the tip line, 203-594-3544, to further gather information regarding Jennifer’s disappearance we now have a dedicated e-mail [hidden email] and website www.FindJenniferDulos.com,” Chief Leon Krolikowski said.