The trial for Michelle Troconis ended early on Friday after a few hours of testimony from forensic examiners about blood screening tests and human hairs found on pieces of evidence — mostly items pulled from trash bins in Hartford.
Retired forensic examiners Christine Roy and Anita Vailonis, from the state lab in Meriden, walked the jury through how they examined and swabbed many items for DNA testing, ran blood screening tests to detect the potential presence of blood and pulled out human hairs that were sent out to be tested.
Vailonis testified that she found five hairs in total on a sponge, a clear plastic bag, a black garbage bag, a towel and on a piece of the interior of a red Toyota Tacoma pickup truck — a truck that the jury heard about nearly every day this week.
While cross-examining Vailonis, Troconis’ defense attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, argued that many pieces of evidence might be contaminated because of how they were collected.
“They just took the barrel, dumped it into a larger contractor’s garbage bag and then later spread it out,” he said, likening the evidence collection to cooking with breadcrumbs.
“You know when you make some type of meal, you put some cornflakes or you put breadcrumbs in a bag and shake it around,” he said. “It gets on everything.”
Schoenhorn asked Vailonis if she thought the items she tested could have been contaminated by other items in the trash bin they were pulled from before they made it to the lab.
She said she trusted the law enforcement agencies to follow protocol and training for evidence collection.
“Dumping everything from that barrel into one larger construction bag and bringing it someplace else, would that not be in the protocol as you understand it?” Schoenhorn asked.
“I don’t see any alternatives,” she said. “Would you like them to spread it out on paper and go through the garbage can item by item on a city street? I think I would personally also bag that and take it back to a secure location and sort through it.”
Schoenhorn pressed the matter, asking Vailonis if she agreed that that process would contaminate any items that were in the barrel.
“It’s a barrel of garbage,” she said.
Investigators allege that Fotis Dulos dumped evidence related to the death of his estranged wife Jennifer Farber Dulos into different trash bins and barrels along Albany Avenue to cover up his crimes just hours after she disappeared on May, 24, 2019.
The jury has seen video surveillance footage of that trip to Hartford, which shows Troconis, who was dating and living with Dulos at the time, in the passenger seat of Dulos’ black Ford F-150 Raptor as Dulos took items — including black garbage bags — from the bed of his pickup truck and put them into different trash bins.
Troconis has admitted that she was in Dulos’ truck with him but has maintained that she was just along for the ride. She thought they were just going to Starbucks, she told investigators.
When she asked Dulos why they were stopping to dump trash on that trip, she said he told her to relax.
Vailonis and Roy also testified about blood screening tests done on items pulled from the trash. Some came back negative, most came back positive.
Schoenhorn has consistently objected to the jury hearing testimony about blood screening tests, called presumptive tests by the attorneys in the case, which indicate that there may be blood on a piece of evidence. The presumptive tests can also garner positive results from animal blood, certain vegetables or cleaners, and Schoenhorn has argued that telling the jury about these tests is confusing and misleading.
“As you know, I objected to any evidence of the so-called presumptive testing,” he said after court Friday. “I’ve tried to make it clear it shouldn’t have come in at all. But I think it was the clearest today when the witness this afternoon admitted that it’s possible that it’s blood.”
Roy was also on the stand on Thursday and said she only performed three confirmatory blood tests — on a long-sleeve Vineyard Vines striped shirt, a bra and a white-ish hard item — which all came back positive.
The shirt and bra, which investigators allege Farber Dulos was wearing when she was killed, were cut down the middle and heavily stained a reddish-brown. Schoenhorn said the third item was a small piece of white plastic. All three items were found in trash bins on Albany Avenue.
“There are obviously certain items that were tested that clearly had blood, including those items of clothing, but whatever else had on it is pure speculation in my view because of the fact that it was so jumbled together,” Schoenhorn said.
Friday marked the 16th day of the trial for Troconis, who is charged with conspiring to commit murder, hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence in connection to the disappearance and death of Farber Dulos.
The New Canaan mother of five was entangled in divorce and custody proceedings with her estranged husband when she vanished. Her body has never been found and she has been declared legally dead.
Dulos, who was charged with murder in connection to Farber Dulos’ death, died after attempting suicide in 2020. Investigators allege Troconis plotted with her then-boyfriend to kill Farber Dulos and helped him cover up the crimes.
When asked to sum up the state’s case against his client on Friday, Schoenhorn described it as “long.”
“It’s not the longest trial I’ve ever done. I’ve done trials that take three months,” he said. “But it’s just a long, slow-moving process.”
He said he was not going to criticize the prosecution for taking a detailed, step-by-step approach.
“They’re putting on a lot of stuff that, if for no other reason, shows how much money and time was spent not just prosecuting this case but investigating this case,” he said outside the Stamford courthouse.
Troconis’ name was not mentioned at all during the trial on Friday. Schoenhorn has repeatedly said that the prosecution has so far pointed toward Dulos’ guilt, not his client’s.
“As I’ve said all along this is really the trial of Fotis Dulos. I’m not either keen to be defending him, nor is it my job,” he said.
But to prove that Troconis conspired with Dulos to kill his wife, he said the state has to prove “that Fotis Dulos didn’t just hurt his wife, didn’t even cause her death, but he murdered her. That he intended to kill her,” he said.
“That’s a choice they made, that’s something they have to prove to this jury,” Schoenhorn said.
Troconis’ trial is set to continue in Stamford at 10 a.m. on Monday.