Battered New Canaan woman testifies
STAMFORD -- Mary Margaret Farren took the stand for 90 minutes Friday morning and described in agonizing detail the brutal beating she took from her former husband, John Michael Farren, and the dramatic escape she made with her two daughters from their New Canaan home almost four years ago.
A few of the jurors dabbed tears from their cheeks at points during Farren's description of what her husband did to her and their children, how he strangled and beat her with his fists and bludgeoned her over and over again with a heavy metal flashlight.
Mary Farren's testimony came on the fourth day of the trial of her civil suit against her ex-husband, in which she's asking for millions in damages. The Jan. 6, 2010, assault left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical problems.
Although John Farren, 60, came to court last week to pick a jury for the trial, he has not shown up at all this week to cross-examine any of the witnesses called by Mary Farren's lawyers to testify. He is representing himself in the case, and is essentially being tried in absentia by failing to appear.
Under gentle questioning by her own lawyer, Ernie Teitell, on Friday morning, Mary Margaret Farren, 47, spent an hour-and-a-half describing the night of the attack. It happened just after she filed for divorce in early January 2010.
In a deposition taken from him after the attack, which was shown to the jury in earlier testimony this week, John Farren said he unexpectedly received divorce papers delivered to his house on Jan. 4. Over the course of the two-hour deposition, Farren invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
Mary Farren said that at first her husband tried calmly to get her to withdraw the papers, but eventually he got angry. She said she told her husband that she was open to reconciliation and that she would put the divorce on hold if the two got marriage counseling.
Later on the night of Jan. 6, after Mary Farren had put her two daughters to bed in their 9,500-square-foot Wahackme Road home, she said her husband asked her again to withdraw the papers, and she repeated her demand for counseling.
Lying in bed in his navy blue striped, flannel Brooks Brothers pajamas, Farren put his hands to his temples and said to her, "I have done everything for you. I don't deserve this," she testified.
Mary Farren said her husband then leaped up and grabbed her by the throat with both hands and tackled her before banging her head against the hardwood floor.
Farren said she screamed once, but then realized the only one who would hear her would be her 7-year-old daughter.
"He said, `I am killing you,' and continued to strangle me and pulled out large amounts of my hair," Farren said on the stand. "I felt like he was tearing my scalp from my skull."
Farren said that her husband then began to pummel her with his fists. She said she began losing consciousness when he threw her onto an area rug near the foot of the bed.
Farren said he grabbed a large, heavy black metal Maglite flashlight off his bedside table and jumped on her, straddling her chest with his legs while holding her arms to the floor. Mary Farren said her husband had told her years earlier, when she asked why he needed such a big heavy flashlight, that it was necessary to have it by the bed because it could be used as a weapon.
Farren said her husband then began to strike her on the head and face with the flashlight. Later, the flashlight was found neatly placed back on the bedside table, lens end down, and covered with blood and hair, New Canaan police officers testified this week.
`I needed to hold it together'
As her husband was beating her, Mary Farren said she could feel her skull and face fracturing. She said she fought off the temptation to scream, wanting to prevent her daughter from coming into the bedroom and seeing her father trying to kill her mother.
"I knew I needed to hold it together and stay conscious, so I could save the girls," she said.
While being held down and feeling her head and hair soaked with blood, Farren said she tried to appeal to her husband.
"I said, `Mike, please stop. We can work this out. We can work this out," she said.
But he was not going to stop, she said.
Farren coldly replied, "You are just saying that because you are scared," she testified.
For some reason Farren went into the bathroom, and, realizing she would probably be killed if she continued to lie on the bedroom floor, she used a bureau to pull herself up and looked at the security alarm panel just beside the bedroom door.
She knew there was a silent panic alarm that went directly to police headquarters, but because her vision was so blurred from the beating, she could not tell which one it was.
She began punching buttons and all of a sudden the alarm inside the house went off and Farren came tearing out of the bathroom and tackled her, she said.
"I went black," after being taken to the floor again, she said.
Sometime later, she heard noises in the master bathroom and the alarm was off. She said before losing consciousness she said she heard her husband say something about getting a knife.
`To the car!'
With a rush of adrenaline, she got to her feet and ran to her daughter's room and said, "To the car. Daddy is trying to kill me." The girl got up and ran out of the bedroom and Mary Farren said she then went to the bedroom of her four-month old daughter and "scooped her up like a football," and ran down the back stairway of the home to the garage.
Once in the garage she got the kids in the car and with the keys already in the car, she backed out and drove over the lawn before taking off down the street.
Unable to see clearly, she looked for any house with its lights on and just before blacking out again pulled into the driveway of Barbara and John Achenbaum's home on nearby Weed Street. Before collapsing in their doorway, she told them her husband had just tried to kill her and her daughters were in the car, she said.
After waking up in the hospital, Farren said she thought her time was up.
"I was thinking I was dying," she said. "My head just felt pulverized. I was so cold and feeling drained and the incredible pain. I felt my life slipping away."
She said the big gashes in her head and face bled for months before they healed. In some places where she did not have enough skin to stitch together, doctors and nurses had put a glue-like substance to help the healing.
Criminal case still pending
The day after the attack, John Farren was charged with attempted murder, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor. While the civil case against him has moved forward, the criminal case has not. Farren has tied his criminal case in knots by jettisoning his lawyer, requesting a public defender and contesting and filing various motions. He says he is indigent after his wife had his assets frozen in the legal proceedings. The court has so far not found him to be qualified for a public defender. He is due back in court on his criminal case Dec. 18.
On Monday he sent a message to the trial Judge Robert Genuario in the civil case saying he had been admitted to a Hartford area hospital and had no chance of making it to court. But word around the courthouse is that Farren is at the Institute for Living, a Hartford sanitarium where he spent several months after his arrest, before he was released on $750,000 bond and put on electronic monitoring to live at his sister's home, also in the Hartford area. An operator at the institution on Friday said she could not find Farren's name in the directory. A call to Farren seeking comment about his wife's testimony was not returned.
Attorneys at the courthouse say Farren, who is essentially being tried in absentia, probably figures the huge damages his wife will be awarded by the jury will be easier to appeal and set aside if he isn't there to defend himself.
Both Farrens are highly accomplished lawyers. John Farren served as deputy legal counsel in the George W. Bush White House, and had been general counsel of the Xerox corporation before that. Mary Margaret Farren worked for the high-powered law firm Skadden, Arps, before the assault.
Lasting agony and fear
The experience has left Mary Margaret Farren with lasting emotional agony and fear of her husband. Every time she has a picture taken and sees that the right side of her mouth does not rise with the left when she smiles, she thinks of that night. Every time she writes her name or blunders into a wall or table and hurts herself because her perception is off as a result of the injuries she sustained in the attack, she remembers that night.
Even her older daughter has been traumatized. Fighting back tears, Mary Farren said that after the carnage at Sandy Hook a year ago, her daughter, now 11, took it upon herself to ask school officials if someone could get into her school, even if it was her own father, who wanted to get her.
Farren said she now lives in constant fear that her former husband -- they were divorced in June 2011 -- will find them. She said she is wary of using her credit cards and is always looking for her former husband.
She said John Farren was a very powerful man and took delight in ruining people.
"He was very vengeful in the sense that if anyone operated in a way he didn't agree with, he would take pleasure in trying to destroy their career," she said.
Asked if her former husband has ever expressed his remorse to her since the assault, Farren said no. "It is very troubling and makes me fearful for our safety," she said.