Posted: Aug.7, 2003
LEGAL DREAM TEAM, THE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Chief Deputy Attorney General Ferris W.
Wharton is leaving the state Justice Department for the U.S.
Attorney's Office, where he will reunite with U.S. Attorney Colm F.
Connolly, his partner in prosecuting Thomas J. Capano in one of
Delaware's most spectacular murder trials.
Wharton, who has been the second-in-command to
Republican Attorney General M. Jane Brady since 2001, is departing
from what is largely an administrative post at the end of August for
the opportunity to try cases again as an assistant U.S. attorney, he
"It's a difficult place to leave, but it's a
chance to do what I was trained to do -- going to court and
prosecuting cases," Wharton said.
Exactly what Wharton's assignments will be is
open to speculation -- much of it focused on whether he and Connolly
are teaming up to pursue the high-stakes federal investigation into
the New Castle County administration of Democratic County Executive
Thomas P. Gordon and Chief Administrative Office Sherry L. Freebery.
Neither would say, but neither denied it,
either. Connolly even dangled the tantalizing possibility that he
would not mind adding to his prime responsibility of running the
office to go personally into the courtroom again, if it comes to
"That's interesting speculation. We'll just
wait and see," Wharton said.
"He's a gifted lawyer. I'm hoping we may be
able to try cases together again. It would be a great treat. I know
he would be eager to do that, as well," Connolly said.
Wharton, a homegrown graduate of the
University of Delaware with a law degree from the University of
Illinois, is one of the state's most experienced prosecutors. He has
been a deputy attorney general since 1980. He will be leaving a
$110,000-a-year state job for a federal one that pays more, although
the exact amount was unavailable Thursday.
Connolly says he has been working on Wharton
to switch to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Delaware arm of the
federal Justice Department, since he took over as the appointee of
the Republican Bush administration in 2001. He said he had kept a
spot open in hopes that Wharton eventually would agree to come.
"I'm thrilled to have him," Connolly said.
On the other end, Brady is sorry to lose
Wharton. "I've known Ferris since college. We're close personal
friends as well as colleagues," she said. "He's been a real asset to
the office, but I completely understand his desire to try cases."
Brady said she has not decided who will take
Wharton and Connolly knew each other mostly by
reputation when Capano's murder trial indelibly linked them
In late 1998 and early 1999, they spent more
than three months co-prosecuting Capano for the death of Anne Marie
Fahey, the sparkling 30-year-old scheduler for Thomas R. Carper,
then a two-term Democratic governor who is now in the U.S. Senate.
It was a painstaking effort to accomplish one of the most difficult
tasks that prosecutors can encounter -- persuading a jury to convict
without having a body or a murder weapon.
As if the task itself wasn't hard enough, they
had to do it with national attention trained on Delaware and with a
skeptical public wondering whether the money and political
connections of Tom Capano, a lawyer who had worked for a governor
and a mayor, could get him off.
Wharton and Connolly came together in an
unusual fashion. Wharton was a state prosecutor, and Connolly was an
assistant U.S. attorney. Murder cases belong to the state, but the
federal office had a superior investigative operation, and Wharton
and Connolly were instrumental in lobbing the case back and forth to
optimize the resources of both. Then they both tried it in the
Delaware Superior Court.
Capano assembled four high-powered lawyers in
what was regarded as a "dream team" for the defense, but Wharton and
Connolly were a virtuoso duet themselves, Wharton as sturdy and
unflappable as Connolly was intense.
"[Wharton] and Connolly were a perfect blend
of patience and energy, experience and enthusiasm," wrote George
Anastasia, who covered the trial for the Philadelphia Inquirer
and wrote about it in a book called The Summer Wind.
Although Wharton was the senior prosecutor,
Connolly drew more news coverage, not only because he spearheaded
the federal investigation but also because Wharton ceded him the
trial's most riveting moment -- Capano's cross-examination -- and
Connolly unmasked him.
Connolly got to Capano so much that the Capano
raged at him, "You heartless, gutless, soulless disgrace for a human
being!" Judge William Swain Lee had to have Capano forcibly removed
from the courtroom.
Connolly has not forgotten Wharton's
graciousness. "He was very much willing to let me run with things,"
he said. "It was ultimately his call."
Now Connolly has called for Wharton, and he is
coming. It would seem they must have something in mind, wouldn't it?
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