Del. trial spins web of privilege, passion Intrigue: A wealthy Wilmington lawyer is accused of murdering his girlfriend, whose body has never been found

October 27, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- It's not much: a 162-quart cooler found empty, lidless, with a bullet hole in one side and bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean.

But it is the key to the case that has riveted this small, close-knit city with TV-movie, crime-of-passion elements: The prominent, married attorney named Thomas Capano who is charged with killing his one-time mistress, Anne Marie Fahey, a pretty, troubled woman who served as scheduling secretary to the state's governor.

"That cooler became what he always intended it to become -- Anne Marie Fahey's coffin," prosecutor Ferris Wharton said yesterday in his opening argument in Capano's trial.

"Thomas Capano had determined that if Anne Marie Fahey could not be manipulated to be with him, she would be with no one forever."

Before a crowded courtroom in which the victim's and the defendant's families sat on opposite sides like the Montagues and Capulets, lawyers began unleashing their evidence, theories and scenarios.

Despite a lack of much physical evidence, the prosecution is expected to present a strong case based on testimony by intimates of Capano. They say they will prove that Capano killed Fahey in a jealous rage on June 27, 1996, because she was trying to break up with him after a three-year affair.

Capano's attorneys, however, quickly set about attacking the evidence and witnesses. Defense attorney Joseph Oteri even dropped a surprise scenario: that Fahey was not murdered, but rather the victim of an "outrageous, horrible, tragic accident" that Capano tried to cover up. He later refused to elaborate.

The crowded courtroom is an apt setting for the trial: With both Capano, 49, and Fahey, who was 30, well known in the city, the case is a web of interconnections. In fact, one of the prosecution's most critical witnesses is Capano's brother, Gerry, who agreed to testify after police raided his house and discovered cocaine and guns. He is expected to testify that he helped Thomas throw a cooler containing a body off the side of hisboat about 60 miles off the New Jersey coast.

Her body has never been recovered.

But Oteri was quick to disparage Gerry Capano's credibility, noting his history of substance abuse -- "cocaine, LSD, you name it." "He has no definable job. He's a typical screwed-up rich kid. He's a poster boy for the Me Generation."

Oteri also introduced another defense strategy: Confabulation, a psychological phenomenon in which people fill in the blanks of incomplete memories.

"A drug user's mind has black holes," said Oteri, whose thick Boston accent, white mane of hair and flamboyant style contrast with the more even, by-the-book prosecutors.

The Capanos are a rich, entrenched family here. They took up several rows behind the defendant, who frequently turned to smile and chat with them. His wife, Kay, and young daughters sat through hours of lawyers describing not just Thomas Capano's affair with Fahey but also with Deborah MacIntyre, who prosecutors say bought the gun that Capano used to kill Fahey.

Capano quickly emerged as a suspect after Fahey disappeared in June 1996 and their affair was revealed. It was another year and a half, though, before investigators had enough evidence to arrest Capano, who's been in prison ever since.

Capano, who appeared sallow and gaunt at yesterday's hearing,is one of four sons whose father created the prosperous Louis J. Capano & Sons construction company. He is a former chief legal counsel to a previous governor and, most recently, the head of the bond department of a prominent law firm.

Fahey, whose family and friends filled several rows in the courthouse, came from a vastly different world. The youngest of six children, Fahey was 9 years old when her mother died and her father spiraled into "intense" alcoholism, her brother Brian Fahey testified yesterday.

As their father eventually stopped working, the family became impoverished, sometimes going without food, electricity, hot water or telephone service.

Anne Marie was often sent to live with relatives or friends, something that Brian Fahey suggested led to her problems with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and near obsessive neatness.

Fahey's anorexia and abuse of laxatives left the 5-foot-10 brunette a dangerous 117 pounds at one point.

While the Faheys have wide sympathy here as details of their harsh childhood have emerged since Anne Marie's death, Capano's attorneys indicated yesterday that they would not be treating them with any special gentleness. He suggested the family tried to capitalize on Fahey's death by filing a civil suit against Capano. And he questioned how, if they are as close a family as they claim, they didn't know about their sibling's three-year affair.

After saying he was not going to besmirch the victim's character, Oteri went on to tell jurors that Fahey continually accepted money, gifts and clothes from Capano.

"She was onto a good thing and used it, and more power to her," Oteri said bluntly.

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