Posted: Aug.7, 2003


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 said Thursday.

"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.

"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's place.

Wharton and Connolly knew each other mostly by reputation when Capano's murder trial indelibly linked them together.

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?