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Friday, March 16 News

Jury hears closing arguments in former White House lawyer's trial

Jury hears closing arguments in vicious beating of New Canaan woman

Closing arguments in the attempted murder trial of former White House counsel J. Michael Farren were heard Wednesday by a six-person jury that will begin deliberating on the case at the Stamford courthouse Thursday morning.

The trial to determine Farren's guilt or innocence in the strangulation and severe beating of his wife four years ago ended without the defense calling anyone to testify on Farren's behalf.

Mary Margaret Farren, 47, testified for a little over an hour on Monday, the first day of the trial, about the beating she took on Jan. 6, 2010, at the hands of her former husband of 15 years, two days after she served him with divorce papers.

During their closing arguments the defense attorneys admitted that Farren, 61, beat his wife badly, but took issue with the severity of the charges brought against him and whether the state had made its case against the hard-charging former Xerox general counsel, who also served two Bush presidents in Washington, D.C.

Farren is charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a child. He could face a maximum of 50 years in jail if convicted on all counts. He has not been present at the trial, having requested to be tried in absentia because, he said, he was unable to cope mentally with the evidence against him, and that he hoped his absence would quell media interest in the case. Judge Richard Comerford granted Farren's unusual request last week.

Assistant State's Attorney Richard Colangelo, who is trying the case with Stamford State's Attorney David Cohen, was the first to make closing arguments and told the jury that the prosecution had proved every criminal count beyond a reasonable doubt.

Colangelo said it was clear by the testimony of Mary Margaret Farren that her former husband was acting with the specific intent to take her life when he grabbed her by the throat and tackled her to the hardwood floor in their master bedroom and banged her head on the floor while squeezing the life out of her.

"`I am killing you,'" Colangelo reminded the jurors that Farren had said as he was throttling and punching her, according to Mary Margaret Farren's testimony.

Colangelo said after that when Farren picked his wife up by the throat and threw her across the room and began bludgeoning her head and face up to 10 times with the metal flashlight, those were all the elements they needed to convict him of first-degree assault. He then listed her injuries, a significant loss of blood, a broken jaw and cheek bone, deep cuts to her head that were splayed open so deeply that her skull was showing and tufts of hair that had been pulled out. He reminded them too that Mary Margaret Farren's smile is now crooked from the nerve damage to her right cheek that she sustained in the attack.

He also reminded the jury that Mary Margaret Farren's attending doctor at the Norwalk Emergency Room, Dr. Alan Meinke, told them that in his more than 30-year career as a doctor he had never seen fists do that kind of damage to a person's face or skull.

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Defense attorney Timothy Moynahan told the jurors that they were not there to mete out frontier justice, that years ago a mob might have had Farren dragged from his house and hung "for the loathsome thing he did to a woman."

He asked the jury to take a more personal look at Farren, telling them that his client was a logical, sensible man who, until that January night in 2010, had achieved a "stellar life" with his career success and family life. He and his now-former wife had two daughters, ages 7 and 4 months old at the time of the attack, and lived in a multimillion dollar home in New Canaan.

Moynahan said that given how much of a family man he was, the divorce papers served on him after 15 years of marriage had to have equated to a total failure and hit him like a "kick in the stomach. A sickening, thudding kick," that unhinged him.

He reminded the jury that when the police searched Farren's house, they found in his study the divorce papers that had been unexpectedly served to him two days before the attack were sitting on top of all the other papers on his desk, and that those were probably the last things he saw before the assault began.

That, Moynahan said, was enough for Farren to be "totally consumed by emotion and totally abandoned by logic ¦ The intensity of Mr. Farren's inexplicable overreaction is based on his character. When the logic snapped, so did he."

Moynahan told the jury that Mary Margaret's testimony was clear. That she said her husband beat her to unconsciousness and if he wanted to kill her he surely could have.

But, Moynahan said, "He did not continue. He abandoned and renounced what he was doing¦ He let her leave the house and he didn't chase her."

In her testimony, Mary Farren had said she managed to escape when she regained consciousness and realized that her then-husband was in the bathroom.

Co-defense counsel Eugene Riccio told the jury that they should not convict Farren of first-degree assault. That an assault occurred there was no doubt, he said, but that Mary Margaret Farren's injuries could have been caused by her former husband throwing her around their bedroom, rather than a beating with a heavy six-battery Maglite brand flashlight. He said people commonly get their jaws broken or other facial bones broken by flying fists and if the state could not prove the flashlight caused the injuries they could consider a second-degree assault conviction instead.

As to the risk of injury charge, Riccio said the state did not prove that Farren did anything to put his older daughter in harm's way.

Riccio said the state offered no testimony that he did anything to hurt his children. He said it was Mary Margaret Farren who took the children out of the house and her former husband made no effort to stop her from taking them.

But prosecutor Cohen, who made the last argument on behalf of the state, said it was Farren's actions that night that led Mary Margaret Farren to flee for her life from their Wahackme Road home while nearly passing out at the wheel looking for someone to help her, and that he left her no option but to her to put her child's life in danger. Furthermore the child might be emotionally scarred from seeing her mother bloodied and bruised following the assault, he said.

As to the attempted murder charge, Cohen argued, "When you put hands around a person's throat and squeeze, what did you intend? The end result of a strangulation, if it goes far enough, is death ¦ The defendant's intention was to kill his wife."

Cohen also warned the jury that it did not have to prove that each of Mary Margaret Farren's wounds was caused by the flashlight. Hitting someone with such a flashlight, Cohen suggested while holding up the Maglite for the jury to see, may not mean you want to kill them, "But boy, you want to hurt them."

Court watchers say they are sure Farren will be convicted on all charges. One lawyer with knowledge of the case said he expects the jury to come back with guilty verdicts on Thursday "before lunch."

John Nickerson|Police and court reporter