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Fotis Dulos' Death Raises Questions For Courts

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Law enforcement vehicles parked outside Fotis Dulos' Farmington home on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.

Fotis Dulos died Thursday at a New York hospital, where he was brought after an apparent suicide attempt two days earlier at his Farmington home. He was out on bail awaiting trial for murder charges in the disappearance of his estranged wife, Jennifer Farber Dulos. 

Two others still face charges in connection with that death; Dulos’ former girlfriend Michelle Troconis and attorney Kent Mawhinney are charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

The death of the man at the center of the case raises a lot of questions as to what happens next, but Jim Bergenn said one thing is clear:

“In this case, it’s very simple -- he was never convicted,” said Bergenn, a longtime Hartford-based defense attorney and partner at the Shipman & Goodwin law firm. “That is to say, Fotis Dulos technically stands as an innocent man.”

Bergenn, who is not associated with the case, said the system does not prosecute people who are dead, and the criminal charges against Dulos will likely come to an end.

“The purpose of a criminal conviction is to respond as a society to the conduct of the criminal. Once someone’s convicted, then the judge has to decide, ‘What do we, as a society, as a republic, decide should be the consequence?’” he said. “Once somebody is dead, there is absolutely nothing that can be achieved from a criminal prosecution.”

But Dulos’ lawyer Norm Pattis disagrees, based on a new court motion he has filed. Pattis said he wants the murder trial to proceed so that he may clear his client’s name. 

“Mr. Dulos professed his innocence to the grave, and it was his final wish and the wish of his estate that he be speedily tried before a jury of his peers to establish his innocence before the world,” the motion states. “The state has made an accusation. The public at large has convicted Mr. Dulos without the due process and the other protections that he was entitled to by law.”

According to a report in the Hartford Courant, a trial with a deceased defendant has never occurred in Connecticut, and experts argue that it’s unlikely to happen. 

Former FBI special agent Robert Gray, who teaches in the University of New Haven’s criminal justice department, said this isn’t the first time this kind of situation has occurred in a criminal case.

“You have to keep in mind that Fotis Dulos is one of three people charged with murder in this particular case, so these charges will continue on,” Gray said.

There is still the possibility of a civil case, Bergenn said. Other families of victims have won in civil court for wrongful death, even after a defendant has been found not guilty in a criminal trial.

“So here, they can sue the estate of Fotis and have it found that he took her life and that he has to pay the damages for her loss of life, which in this case would be a several million-dollar case,” said Bergenn.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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