For days winter had been closing in on Wilmington, Del., leaving the city damp and dreary. But on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 17, the clouds disappeared, and the sun shone brilliantly. “I think the reason it’s so pretty today,” 12-year-old Kathleen Messick said that afternoon, “is that Annie got some justice.”
Anyone who had to ask who Annie was probably hadn’t spent the previous dozen weeks in Wilmington, where, from a wood-paneled room in a downtown courthouse, a murder trial had transfixed the state. Defendant Thomas Capano, 49, a former state official and heir to a large real estate fortune, stood accused of the 1996 murder of his mistress, Kathleen’s cousin Anne Marie Fahey, 30. As Capano’s clandestine life was exposed, layer after layer, the case seemed to devastate nearly everyone involved in it. “There aren’t many people who haven’t been affected by this,” says former Wilmington Mayor Thomas Maloney, a onetime Capano friend. “A lot of innocent people’s lives will never be the same.”
None were shattered as much as those of Fahey’s family. Fahey, the pretty, outgoing scheduling secretary to Delaware Gov. Thomas Carper, was first reported missing on June 29, 1996, when she failed to show up for dinner at the home of a brother. The last person known to have seen her alive was Capano, her lover of three years, who had taken her to dinner two nights earlier. Capano told police he had dropped her off at her apartment around 10 p.m. But within weeks, when there was still no trace of Fahey, he became a suspect in the case; on Nov. 12, 1997, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
The arrest shocked Wilmington, where Capano had grown up the oldest of real estate developer Louis Capano’s four sons. In 1971 he graduated from Boston College and in 1974 from Boston Law School. In 1972 he had married nurse Kay Ryan, with whom he had four daughters before the couple’s 1998 divorce. Having returned to Wilmington, he did a stint as a state prosecutor in the mid-1970s and rose to become one of the state’s most prominent attorneys, serving as chief counsel to Delaware Gov. Michael Castle. “His reputation was excellent and unsullied,” says former Delaware Attorney General Richard Weir, for whom Capano served as deputy in the late 1970s. “And he was well connected.”
But his public persona concealed an unsavory private life that included an overlapping series of mistresses. One of them was Fahey, whom he started seeing secretly in 1993. The affair was known to only a few until June 1996, when Fahey disappeared. With no body, no murder weapon and no eyewitnesses, police were hard-pressed to make a case against Capano, who maintained for more than two years that he knew nothing of Fahey’s fate.
He abandoned that claim only when he went on trial last October. Defense attorney Joseph Oteri opened Capano’s case with the shocking revelation that Capano admitted to disposing of Fahey’s body—dumping it at sea on June 28, 1996—but vehemently denied committing the murder. Rather, Oteri said, Fahey died because of an “outrageous, horrible, tragic accident.”
Prosecutors told a different story. They said that Fahey, weary of Capano’s domineering personality and psychological abuse (in an April 1996 diary entry she had called Capano “a controlling, manipulative, insecure, jealous maniac”), had started seeing bank executive Michael Scanlan, 34. Angered by Fahey’s new relationship, prosecutors charged, Capano had murdered her out of jealousy.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Capano denied that his affair with Fahey had cooled. Then, telling the jury, “If things were boring up till now, wait for this,” he gave his version of what had happened on the night Anne Marie Fahey disappeared. After dining out in Philadelphia, he said, he and Fahey had returned to his house, where he returned a call from another mistress, Deborah MacIntyre, a former private-school administrator he had been seeing for 15 years. They had an “unpleasant conversation,” said Capano, who told her she couldn’t drop by because he had company. Minutes later, he testified, she showed up with a pistol, threatening to kill herself and crying, according to Capano, “All these years I’ve waited for you, and now I’ve got nothing to show for it!” Capano testified that when he grabbed at MacIntyre’s gun, it went off, killing Fahey. “It was absolutely, positively, I’m certain, accidental,” said Capano, who admitted it was “cowardly” of him not to call 911. (MacIntyre denied any knowledge of the murder and was never named as a suspect.) Instead, he said, he stuffed the body into a cooler and got his brother Gerard, 36, to help him take it 60 miles out into the Atlantic. When the cooler did not sink, he chained Fahey’s body to anchors and dumped it overboard. “This was the body of somebody I loved,” he said. “I turned my eyes and looked away.”
Incredible? Prosecutors thought so, and, after three days of deliberation, so did the 12-member jury—6 men and 6 women. On the morning of Jan. 17, as two devastated families and much of Delaware waited anxiously, superior court Judge William Swain Lee asked the jurors for their verdict. “Guilty as charged,” said the foreman. Outside the Daniel L. Herrmann Courthouse, there was cheering. Meanwhile, defense attorney Oteri, whose client could face the death penalty, says he would try to “save Tom’s life” in the trial’s penalty phase, which was to begin Jan. 20. Shortly afterward, the Fahey family gathered at a friend’s Irish pub for a somber celebration and to recall the personable young woman they remember as forever smiling. “It’s kind of a hollow victory,” said Kathleen Fahey-Hosey, Anne Marie’s sister. “What we want, we can never have, and that’s Anne Marie.”
Gerald Burstyn in Wilmington