New Canaan attempted murder case goes to trail
Claims details of case too emotionally difficult
Updated 10:30 pm, Friday, June 13, 2014
STAMFORD -- With no more delays possible from a string of appeals he filed on his own behalf, J. Michael Farren unexpectedly told a Stamford judge Thursday afternoon that he could no longer represent himself in his trial on charges he attempted to murder his wife. He said the evidence against him was taking too large an emotional toll.
But with the shock of Farren's announcement still fresh in the near-empty courtroom, state Superior Judge Richard Comerford promptly assigned standby counsel Eugene Riccio and Timothy Moynahan to defend Farren, 61, in the 54-month-old case. He also scheduled jury selection to commence Wednesday.
Comerford's actions allowing Farren's trial to quickly move forward appear to be a stunning defeat for the former White House counsel. His life in a gated multimillion dollar New Canaan mansion came to a lightning-quick end on Jan. 6, 2010, when his then-wife, Mary Margaret Farren, turned up at a neighbor's front door badly wounded and bleeding after an alleged brutal attack by her husband with a metal flashlight. It occurred just two days after she said she wanted a divorce.
Since April 2013, when he insisted on taking over the defense of his criminal charges as well as a civil suit brought against him by his wife, Farren has filed a flurry of motions and appeals that had all but stalled his criminal case. A jury awarded his ex-wife $28.6 million in the civil case.
Stamford State's Attorney David Cohen and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Richard Colangelo, the two prosecuting the case, have accused him numerous times of playing for time, with Comerford largely agreeing.
At the beginning of Thursday's hearing, with any stays of execution exhausted by the dismissal of his appeals, Farren said, "At this point, I do not think at this point I am competent to serve as my own attorney in this matter."
Farren explained that since taking over his own defense, he has experienced a number of mental and psychiatric "issues." At the end of last year while his civil case went to trial, he was involuntarily committed to a mental institution for three weeks, he said.
After a week of jury selection for the civil case, a day before the trial was to begin, Farren showed up at a Hartford hospital complaining of suicidal thoughts and was committed.
"Psychologically, I can't address evidence in the case without having severe anxiety and mental issues," Farren told Comerford, adding that he needed an attorney.
Comerford immediately said he would appoint Riccio and or Moynahan to represent him. The two attorneys were hired by Farren to represent him in the civil and criminal cases right after his arrest.
Comerford reminded Farren that he had appointed the two as standby counsel when Farren took over his own defense because he thought them capable of ensuring that his interests would be protected. Since taking over as his own attorney, Comerford has required that Riccio or Moynahan be present at every hearing where Farren appears before the judge.
Farren then asked that the lawyers be taken off his case, saying they couldn't provide an adequate defense. Comerford responded that Riccio and Moynahan were two of the best lawyers in the state.
"If you request that they be replaced ... that is not going to happen. That request will be denied." Comerford said.
Farren then sought to arrange a plea agreement involving a prison term to resolve the case prior to trial. Discussion of such an arrangement between Farren's lawyers, prosecutors and a judge are scheduled to take place Tuesday. If no agreement is reached, jury selection for a trial will begin Wednesday.