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    Wednesday, September 27, 2023

    Jennifer Dulos disappearance: 4 years later, questions remain as family pursues justice

    In this Sept. 12, 2019, file photo, Fotis Dulos, center, appears with his attorney Norm Pattis, left, during Dulos' arraignment on a new tampering with evidence charge at state Superior Court in Norwalk, Conn. The lawyers for Fotis Dulos, the Connecticut man accused of murder after his estranged wife Jennifer Dulos disappeared, will be banned from discussing the case for 40 years, according to probate court settlements. Jennifer Dulos vanished in May 2019 after dropping the estranged couple's five children off at school in New Canaan where she was living. (Erik Trautmann/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool, File)
    Michelle Troconis, charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos, appears for a pre-trial hearing, Friday, Feb. 6, 2020, at the Stamford Superior Court in Stamford, Conn. Troconis, ex-girlfriend of Fotis Dulos pleaded not guilty to conspiring with him in connection with the disappearance and presumed death of his estranged wife, Jennifer Dulos. (Erik Trautmann/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool)

    NEW CANAAN — Four years after the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos, questions remain as her family and friends continue to mourn her death and await justice.

    "We continue to grieve the loss of her loving devotion to her children and family, her friendship, courage, brilliance, humor and singular ability to touch the lives of the people she encountered," said Carrie Luft, a close friend who has acted as a spokesperson for the family since the disappearance on May 24, 2019.

    To mark the day, the family is asking the public to donate to the Black and Missing Foundation, an organization that raises awareness for missing persons of color who receive less attention from the media, Luft said.

    "Intimate partner violence cuts across gender, economic and racial/ethnic lines and it disproportionately affects women of color," Luft said in a statement issued Wednesday. "In Jennifer's honor, we wish to turn the public's attention to the many victims and survivors of intimate partner violence whose stories do not receive widespread media coverage."

    Her family and friends are awaiting the trial process as the investigation remains open, Luft said.

    While the 50-year-old mother of five has never been found, she has been presumed dead based on evidence of a serious assault that occurred in the garage of her New Canaan home on May 24, 2019.

    At the time of the disappearance, Jennifer and Fotis Dulos were embroiled in a heated two-year divorce and custody dispute. Fotis Dulos died by suicide in January 2020 while facing murder, kidnapping and other charges in the case.

    His former girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution in connection with the death and disappearance.

    Fotis Dulos' longtime friend and former attorney, Kent Mawhinney, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the case.

    The two remaining defendants are free on bond and Mawhinney has opted to take his case to trial. Troconis' case, however, has been stalled amid a dispute over evidence her attorney submitted to prosecutors.

    Jennifer Dulos was reported missing around 7 p.m. on May 24, 2019, after friends, including Luft, became concerned that she missed appointments that day in New York City, police said.

    Jennifer Dulos was last seen on a neighbor's security video returning home around 8 a.m. that day after dropping off her five children at nearby New Canaan Country School, according to police.

    Around the same time that night, police said Troconis was seen on surveillance video in Fotis Dulos' pickup truck as he made a series of stops in Hartford. Police said Fotis Dulos was dumping trash bags in bins along Albany Avenue. Police said they later recovered some of the bags, which contained Jennifer Dulos' blood and clothing.

    Here's what we still don't know about the case:

    Where is Jennifer Dulos?

    Despite searches in Connecticut and New York that have spanned years, the remains of Jennifer Dulos have not been found. But the investigation is considered active, according to Connecticut State Police, Luft and prosecutors.

    "The Stamford State's Attorney's Office is committed to prosecuting those responsible for the murder of Jennifer Farber Dulos and seeking justice for her family members and friends," Paul J. Ferencek, State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk, said in a statement Wednesday. "As the cases against Michelle Troconis and Kent Mawhinney progress in court, we continue to work closely with police on any and all leads related to the case."

    Who disposed body?

    Troconis and Mawhinney are accused of conspiracy to commit murder, but court documents have not indicated if either of them participated in the disappearance or disposing of Jennifer Dulos' body.

    According to court documents, Troconis told investigators she was helping Fotis Dulos clean a home he was preparing to sell in Farmington the afternoon of the disappearance. During the interviews with investigators, Troconis said she thought a blood stain in the pickup truck of an employee of Fotis Dulos indicated the body of Jennifer Dulos had been in the vehicle, court documents show.

    Police said they believe Fotis Dulos used the employee's pickup truck to drive to and from New Canaan the day his estranged wife was killed.

    Mawhinney has been accused of trying to establish an alibi for Fotis Dulos the morning of the disappearance. Police said Mawhinney was also connected with an East Granby gun club where hunters found what they believed was a shallow grave that was later refilled around the time Jennifer Dulos vanished. Police said a search of the area revealed no signs Jennifer Dulos' body was ever at the site. Police have also not said if they believe Mawhinney may have been involved in the disposal of the body.

    Will debate over sweatshirt impact the case?

    Troconis' case is next slated to be heard in state Superior Court in Stamford on Friday.

    It is unclear if the hearing will focus on the criminal proceedings against Troconis or on the issue of a sweatshirt and some tools her attorney Jon Schoenhorn turned over to prosecutors through another attorney, who is now a judge.

    Schoenhorn contends the sweatshirt could cast doubt on whether his client was involved in the killing. Schoenhorn has claimed he may use the item in his client's defense since it contained a hair with the DNA of Pawel Gumienny, a former employee of Fotis Dulos.

    Gumienny has not been charged with a crime. He has acknowledged that Fotis Dulos was using his truck on the day of the homicide and told investigators he believed his boss may have been trying to frame him for the crime.

    Police believe Fotis Dulos used Gumienny's Toyota Tacoma pickup truck to drive to New Canaan on the morning of May 24, 2019, and then biked to his estranged wife's home where he attacked her when she returned from dropping off their children at school, arrest warrants stated.

    Has anyone been offered a plea deal?

    Courtroom proceedings have not indicated whether Troconis or Mawhinney have been offered a deal to resolve the case. But it is possible they have been offered a plea agreement to testify against each other.

    Weeks after Mawhinney spoke with state police in August 2020, his bond was reduced and he was freed from prison. Discussions in the courtroom have indicated that Mawhinney would likely testify against Troconis if she takes her case to trial.

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