Thomas Capano Trial: 1998-99
Thomas Capano Trial: 1998-99
Defendant: Thomas Capano
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Joseph S. Oteri, Eugene Maurer and Charles M. Oberly Ill
Chief Prosecutors: Colm Connolly and Ferris W. Wharton
Judge: William Swain Lee
Place: Wilmington, Delaware
Dates of Trial: October 26, 1998-January 18, 1999
SIGNIFICANCE: The notorious murder trial of one of the state's most prominent attorneys stunned Delaware's legal and political establishment.
On June 27, 1996, Anne Marie Fahey, a 30-year-old scheduling secretary working for Delaware Governor Tom Carper, vanished. On the night of her baffling disappearance, Fahey had been seen in a restaurant with noted Wilmington lawyer and political wheeler-dealer, Thomas Capano. Capano, 47 years old, married with four children, had been dating Fahey since 1993. She was just one of his many ongoing affairs. Capano was charged with Fahey's murder despite the fact that her body was not found.
At Capano's trial, which began October 26, 1998, prosecutor Ferris Wharton in his opening address described Capano as becoming incensed because Fahey had ditched him for another man. "Tom Capano had determined that if Anne Marie Fahey could not be manipulated into being with him, she would be with no one else forever."
Responding for the defense, Joseph Oteri brought gasps to the packed courtroom as he presented that Capano now admitted being present when Fahey had died at his home—despite his previous denials of complicity in Fahey's disappearance—but that he had not killed her. "Anne Marie Fahey died as the result of an outrageous, horrible, tragic accident," said Oteri, adding that one other person was present at Capano's home that night and knew the whole story.
During the course of the trial it became apparent that the prosecution had built a strong forensic and circumstantial case against Capano. A search of his home had revealed the presence of two tiny bloodstains, which matched a donor sample given by Fahey in April 1996. Alan Giusti, a DNA analyst at the FBI laboratory, said Fahey "could be the donor" of the blood found in the two bloodstains, with only a 1 in 11,000 chance that they had come from another white American.
Additionally, Gerard Capano, the defendant's brother, testified that he and Capano had dumped Fahey's body, stuffed in a cooler, 60 miles off the New Jersey coast. Astonishingly, this same cooler—empty but full of bullet holes—was later recovered by a fisherman. A credit card receipt showed that Capano had bought an identical cooler on April 20, 1996.
The testimony of Deborah MacIntyre, a 48-year-old school administrator and Capano's longtime mistress, would prove to be pivotal. She admitted buying Capano a. 22 caliber Beretta pistol on May 13, 1996, but had not seen it since. This, combined with the purchase of the cooler, was evidence, the prosecution claimed, that Capano had been planning Fahey's murder for some time.
Attorney Eugene J. Maurer's crossexamination of MacIntyre revealed the strategy behind the defense's case. Hadn't she been at Capano's house when Fahey was killed?
"No," said MacIntyre.
"You deny you discharged that firearm?"
"I don't know what happened to that firearm," MacIntyre responded indignantly.
Maurer pushed hard and extracted an admission from MacIntyre that she was testifying for the prosecution under a promise of immunity from her earlier perjury to the grand jury. "You're scot-free," he said, implying that Fahey's real killer was going to go unpunished.
"I'm fortunate," MacIntyre replied.
Accident or Murder?
Two and a half years after Fahey's disappearance, Thomas Capano took the stand—against the advice of his lawyers. The former state prosecutor wove an incredible tale. He and Fahey had been watching TV at his house on the night of June 27, 1996, when MacIntyre called and asked to come over. Explaining that he had company, Capano hung up.
"The next thing I know, Debbie MacIntyre [had come over and] is in the room.… She was pretty ballistic." Babbling threats of suicide, according to Capano's story, MacIntyre suddenly grabbed a gun from her bag. "Debbie was off the wall. I thought, 'Oh my god, she's going to shoot herself.' "As he grabbed MacIntyre's arm, the gun discharged, hitting Fahey, who had stood up to leave. "She [Fahey] was motionless on the sofa. I said, 'No, this can't be possible.'"
Capano went on. "That's when … I basically made the wrong decision, a cowardly decision, to get rid of the body." To protect MacIntyre, he said, he put Fahey's body in a cooler, which MacIntyre helped him move into his garage the next day.
He then recruited his brother Gerard and borrowed his boat to dump the body. When Capano and his brother threw the cooler containing Fahey into the Atlantic, they thought it would sink immediately. It didn't. "That's when Gerry shot it," Capano said. "Even after Gerry shot it, it still would not sink."
During cross-examination by prosecutor Colm Connolly, Capano was barraged with questions trying to unravel the tale he had woven together. Connolly accused him of manipulating family members in order to back up his story. "Let's talk about your daughters."
"Don't ask me questions about my children!" Capano yelled. He then flew into a rage, calling Connolly a "heartless, gutless, soulless disgrace of a human being."
This outburst by the defendant was too much for Judge Lee, who told guards, "Please take Mr. Capano out of the courtroom."
"He's a liar!" Capano screamed at Connolly as he was hauled away.
Connolly's closing speech to the jury was a scornful diatribe on Capano's outlandish description of how Fahey had died. "Ladies and gentlemen, this story is ludicrous. It defies common sense.… The defendant thought he would get away with murder. If anybody was going to be given the benefit of the doubt, it was the defendant with his political connections."
On January 18, 1999, the jury decided against the defendant and convicted Capano of murder. Ten days later, they handed down his sentence: death by lethal injection. On March 16, Judge Lee upheld this sentence, stating, "The defendant fully expected to get away with it, and if not for his arrogant and controlling nature, he may have succeeded.… He is a ruthless murderer."
As a lawyer Capano should have appreciated the value of silence, but his decision to testify, against the advice of counsel, was ruinous. Hubris got the better of him, and his punishment was of the severest kind.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Los Angeles Times: October 27, 1998, A18; December 17, 1998, A32; December 22, 1998, A38; January 18, 1999, A12.
Rule, Ann. And Never Let Her Go. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.