Michelle Troconis, ‘the most hated woman’ in the United States

The American of Venezuelan origin was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring with her boyfriend to kill his ex-wife. In the end, he committed suicide before the trial and she was the only one convicted in the case. Her family is now fighting a legal battle to reverse the sentence and clear her name

Michelle Troconis
Michelle Troconis appears in court during her criminal trial at Connecticut Superior Court in Stamford, Connecticut, in February 2024.Tyler Sizemore (AP)
Paola Nagovitch

The American of Venezuelan origin would become the focus of the investigation into the murder of Jennifer Dulos, a mother of five who disappeared from her home in New Canaan, Connecticut, on May 24, 2019. Five years later, Michelle would be charged, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring with Fotis Dulo — her former partner and the victim’s ex-husband — to kill Jennifer, whose body was never found. As Fotis killed himself before the case went to trial, the full weight of the law came down on Michelle.

Between May 2019 and May of this year — during the search for Jennifer, the investigation and, eventually, the trial — Michelle found herself embroiled in a media storm. She was accused of being Fotis’ “lover” and “the other woman” — the Latina who seduced him and who supposedly wanted to replace Jennifer as his wife and mother.

For Michelle’s family, this has all been an “ordeal,” as described by Marisela Troconis, one of her three sisters. Michelle has always defended her innocence (as has her family), from the day Jennifer disappeared until this past May 31, when Michelle was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder conspiracy, evidence tampering and hindering the prosecution. The sentence will be suspended after 14-and-a-half years. Subsequently, Michelle will have to serve another five years of probation.

Troconis’ supporters claim that they were victims of the manipulation of Fotis Dulos, who deceived both Michelle and the rest of her family. He posed as a good man, father and partner, when, in reality, he was “a narcissist, manipulator, controller, liar and serial adulterer,” in the words of Marisela.

“Michelle has been unfairly blamed… she’s received all the blame in the absence of Fotis, who’s the one who’s really responsible for [all of this],” says Marisela, in a conversation with EL PAÍS via video call from Ohio. “We’re disenchanted with the American judicial system, even though we’re all American citizens and feel part of this country. The prosecutors weren’t interested in knowing the truth. Instead, they found the weakest person to be able to get [a speedy trial], since Fotis killed himself. He didn’t want to accept the trial that he would have had to endure.” The family believes that Michelle — because she’s Latina — was “the scapegoat of the judicial system.”

Michelle Troconis
John Kimball – a former Connecticut State Police detective – watches the video of his interrogation of Michelle Troconis during her trial, in February of 2024.Ned Gerard (AP)

Michelle is currently incarcerated at York Correctional Institution, in southeastern Connecticut. There, “she’s studying and reading a lot, feeding her soul so as not to collapse,” says another of her sisters, Daniela Troconis, with a broken voice, via a video call from Florida. “She’s a strong woman, but this is making her very anxious. Imagine: she lost trust in people, she doesn’t trust anyone. And that’s to be expected. But I believe that the same support that she has from us, her family, is helping her live day-to-day,” Daniela adds. “Besides, she has the truth on her side. I think that helps her get through it.”

Michelle plans to appeal her conviction with the help of a public defender and her family, who continue to support her in her legal battle. “We’re going through a very difficult time,” Marisela acknowledges. But she quickly clarifies that the family “isn’t going to stop fighting for her to be exonerated and released.” In addition to achieving Michelle’s freedom, her family would like the Latino community in the United States to know the truth about the convicted woman. They feel that the community hasn’t mobilized to support her. According to Michelle’s friends and family, she was just another one of Fotis Dulos’ victims.

This is Michelle’s story, told by those who know her best.

The sister, the mother, the friend

Michelle was born on September 26, 1974, in Memphis, Tennessee, where her parents — originally from Venezuela — were studying. She was the twin of a child who died at birth, due to a congenital disease. Her sister Daniela was also born in Tennessee two years later.

When Michelle was six-years-old, her parents decided to return to Venezuela, where her other two sisters — Marisela and Claudia — were born. “We really grew up in Venezuela, in Caracas. That’s where we studied. Our culture is from Venezuela, our customs are Venezuelan,” Daniela explains. In Caracas, Michelle studied psychopedagogy and specialized in offering equine-assisted therapies (EAT) for children living with disabilities.

Michelle Troconis
Michelle Troconis, reporting for the ESPN television channel, in a file photograph.JFM

Michelle then traveled around the world, passing through Argentina, where she lived for more than a decade. That’s where her daughter was born. In Argentina, she hosted an ESPN show and continued her work in rehabilitation therapies with horses. “My sister is an extraordinary woman in every sense of the word,” Marisela highlights. “She’s a happy, vibrant, independent woman. From a very early age, she never depended on anyone.” For her part, Daniela describes her sister as “a person who radiates light. She enters a room and we’re suddenly all together, because she brings good energy.”

It wasn’t until 2012 that Michelle returned to live in the United States. She moved to Miami to be closer to her family, her sisters and her nephews. “We’re a tight-knit family and we always support each other,” Daniela emphasizes. During her video call with EL PAÍS — which lasts more than half-an-hour — she describes the close bond she has with her older sister.

“Michelle and I are only two years older. That’s why we’re the closest of the four sisters,” she notes. “Since we were little, we played together all the time. We trusted each other with everything that sisters share, from who we liked, our boyfriends, our friendships, what we wanted to study, everything.”

When Daniela got married 20 years ago, Michelle was the wedding godparent. She’s also the godmother of Daniela’s son. And, when her little sister wanted to open her own business in 2015 to sell shoe covers, Michelle was her “great support.”

“She was there day and night, working to make my dream come true. Today, I’m a successful businesswoman thanks to my sister, because of all the help she gave me.”

During Michelle’s sentencing, Daniela wanted to describe their close relationship. “I told the judge about an experience that marked me. [It was when] Michelle, my sister, saved my life. I was 16-years-old. We were walking in the Amazon, in Venezuela. I was crossing a river that rose out of nowhere. I panicked. My sister created a human chain with others, to grab me and pull me out. If it hadn’t been for Michelle, I would have fallen down a waterfall,” she says. “Today, I’m alive thanks to my sister.”

Furthermore, both Daniela and Marisela highlight that Michelle is a single mother, completely devoted to her daughter Nicole, who is now 17-years-old. “My sister’s priority has always, always been her daughter,” Daniela emphasizes. The young woman is a skier: Michelle dedicates almost all her time to supporting her athletic career, as confirmed by the Troconis family. In fact, this year, Nicole managed to make a junior Olympic ski team, despite her mother’s legal problems..

Michelle Troconis
Michelle Traconis, pictured doing rehabilitation therapies with horsesJFM

Fotis Dulos enters her life

It was precisely at a ski club (a waterskiing club, that is) where Michelle crossed paths with Fotis Dutos for the first time. It was May 2016, three years before the disappearance and murder of Jennifer Dulos. The Troconis family claims that, when Michelle met Fotis, he already had another girlfriend — a Greek model. With skiing as a unifying factor, a friendship emerged between Fotis and Michelle. They trained together and were developing an intimate relationship when Fotis assured Michelle that he had broken up with his previous girlfriend and that he was separating from his wife, Jennifer.

“I was the first one in the family to meet Fotis,” Daniela remembers. “What can I tell you? I was delighted. Physically, he was a handsome guy. And he was polite, very much like our customs… he seemed like a very, very, very good guy.” According to Marisela, “there was a lot of compatibility” between the two, because they shared a love of sports, nature and family time. “A facade,” Daniela laments. “Obviously, later on in the trial, we found out that everything was a lie.”

In love and without any suspicion that she was being manipulated — as alleged by her family — Michelle decided to move to Connecticut to live with Fotis in September 2017. Before doing so, Michelle consulted with her entire family.”When she decided to move, she talked about it with the family. [Fotis] told us that he was separated, in an amicable divorce,” Daniela recalls. “We all asked him questions — it’s obvious that we would ask — and those were his answers. And he said that Jennifer was okay with him [moving out to live with Michelle]. He even showed us text messages he had with Jennifer, so it all seemed to be true. We all approved,” she sighs. “But that was my sister’s mistake.”

According to court documents, divorce proceedings between Jennifer and Fotis began in 2017, when Jennifer filed for divorce in June of that year. This was after Michelle and Fotis met. However, far from being an amicable separation, it was stormy. In total, the two filed more than 300 motions full of insults and accusations during the divorce proceedings and the fight for custody of their five children. In her divorce suit, Jennifer claimed that her husband had been having an extramarital affair with Michelle for a year. She accused Fotis — who was born in Turkey and raised in Greece — of having threatened to kidnap their children and take them to a foreign country. Fotis, for his part, alleged that Jennifer had mental problems and couldn’t care for the children..

Michelle Troconis
Surveillance video of a man resembling Fotis Dulos – taken on the day of Jennifer Dulos' disappearance – is played for the jury during Troconis' criminal trial.Tyler Sizemore (AP)

The Troconis family insists that they were unaware of these details of the divorce battle between Jennifer and Fotis, until everything came to light during the trial. “[When we met Fotis], we accepted what he told us. He said that he was going through a divorce and that his wife, Jennifer, was okay with each of them moving on with life and with Michelle going to live in Connecticut,” Marisela recounts. Daniela adds that her family and Fotis’ celebrated Christmas of 2017 together in Connecticut. “We spent some very nice days with the children... we lived with Fotis for 10 days and everything was normal. He seemed to be a father who was dedicated to his children, kind and patient,” she recalls.

But Daniel also admits that, “as the years went by” — after Jennifer disappeared — “we began to open our eyes, realizing that he had manipulated us and that he wasn’t the person [Michelle] presented him as. At the trial, we finally found out who this person was. He deceived us and we all fell for it, because we’re a good family and we’re naive.”

“They removed our blindfolds at the trial”

It’s the morning of Friday, May 24, 2019. Jennifer Dulos, 50, returns to her home in the quiet and wealthy neighborhood of New Canaan, in southwestern Connecticut. The mother — who comes from an affluent New York family — has just dropped her five children off at school.

That was the last time anyone heard from her. From that moment on, she hasn’t been seen again.

Jennifer disappeared from her home, where authorities found what appeared to be blood stains on the garage floor and on a vehicle parked inside. Drones, dogs and helicopters scoured the state looking for her. She was never found. A judge declared her dead four years later.

Fotis became the main suspect in her disappearance. A week later, he was arrested, along with Michelle. However, the couple wasn’t charged for Jennifer’s murder until January 2020. Fotis was charged with murder and kidnapping, while Michelle faced the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Three weeks later, Fotis took his own life. “Fotis was — and died — a coward, because he didn’t want to face the charges. He left my sister in this tragedy,” Daniela laments. Michelle went to trial alone, in January 2024.

At the beginning of the investigation, both Michelle and her family believed that Fotis was innocent. But as things progressed, they changed their minds. They say that they began to realize that they had been manipulated… that Fotis, the person they thought they knew and loved, really wasn’t who he said he was.

“When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist who has created a fantasy for you, a different, dolled up world — who tells you that ‘this is an amicable divorce, Jennifer agrees with this relationship, don’t worry’ — [this is someone who’s] disguising reality. Later on, when a trial occurs and they’re revealed to the other person…” Marisela trails off. “It was like a bucket of cold water fell on all of us. They removed our blindfolds at the trial,” she shudders..

Michelle Troconis
Michelle Troconis, center, enters Stamford Judicial District Court on June 19, 2024, with her family and attorneys for the first day of her trial.Aaron Flaum (JFM / Hartford Courant)

The Troconis family maintains that, although Michelle lived with Fotis for two years in Connecticut, they actually spent little time together, because Michelle was constantly traveling for her daughter’s ski training and competitions. “Michelle is a woman who’s completely dedicated to her daughter. She’s a single mother of a teenager and athlete, her only daughter. This means that Michelle spent more time in the year with [Nicole than with Fotis]. Even when she moved in with him, they continued traveling to competitions,” Marisela explains. “She spent very little time living with Fotis on a day-to-day basis. Over the several years of the relationship, the total amount of time she was with him — if we put it all together — was no more than 14 months. So, how is it possible that she was going to realize — that we were going to realize — the reality of Fotis Dulos?”

Marisela argues that the constant coming-and-going helped Fotis hide his true nature from her sister. “Narcissistic people manipulate their environment so much that it can take years until people look back and realize everything. But now, the blame is always on Michelle, like she had to know his intentions, everything he was doing and the seconds in which he was doing it. And that’s totally false. I’ve been married for 20 years and I don’t know what my husband does all day. You trust your partner.”

The “speculation trial”

During the trial — which the family describes as being filled with “speculation” — prosecutors presented various pieces of evidence against Michelle and Fotis. Among them, the state showed security camera recordings, in which Fotis is seen driving a truck with Troconis in the passenger seat on the day of Jennifer’s disappearance. They’re seen stopping at various garbage containers to throw away black bags. Authorities later recovered those bags, in which they found items such as a bloody shirt, a bra and zip ties with Jennifer’s DNA. Thus, prosecutors concluded that Michelle had accompanied Fotis to dispose of incriminating material after the crime.

Michelle and her family maintain that this isn’t true: that she didn’t know what was inside the bags and that it didn’t occur to her to question Fotis. Being a luxury home builder, he used to carry bags full of debris in his car, so that he could throw them away in any garbage dumpster that he passed on the road. “It was common behavior,” Marisela explains. “We’d all be together in the car: he’d be driving and he’d pull over at whatever [dumpster] to throw stuff out. If you ask me now why he did it, since he was a narcissist, he was surely planning for what he wanted to do in the future.”

While Fotis was throwing away the bags on the road, Michelle was under the impression that they were going to a Starbucks. “She was texting. We have evidence from when she was talking to my sister, from when she was talking to my father,” Marisela points out. For Michelle, there was nothing out of the ordinary. “It must be made clear that just because Michelle was a passenger in the car, that doesn’t mean that she was aware of Fotis’ intentions and actions. We think that she was unjustly convicted for being a passenger,” her sister explains.

Michelle Troconis
Michelle Troconis speaks with her attorney, Jon Schoenhorn, during her sentencing in the Connecticut Superior Court, in May of 2024.Ned Gerard (AP)

Beyond the bags, the Troconis family alleges that the trial was rife with irregularities: among them, that the jury was biased, because it was exposed to two months of media coverage about the case before the trial began. The family also highlights that the police confused Michelle during her interrogation and didn’t offer her an interpreter — Spanish is her native language — as well as the fact that the family was unable to follow the trial very closely, because it was difficult for them to understand the legal jargon in English. There’s also the complaint that the authorities never wanted to hear the testimony of Clara “Petu” Duperron, a close friend of Michelle’s. They were together on the morning that Jennifer disappeared.

Duperron — of Argentine origin — met Michelle in Connecticut. With several things in common — such as a love of skiing and familiarity with Argentina — the two became close friends. On the morning of May 24, 2019, Duperron claims that Michelle was at her business, where she sells products imported from Argentina, including rugs that Michelle helped her source. They met to settle accounts before Duperron traveled to London. “It was like any other day, without knowing what was coming,” Duperron sighs, during a video call with EL PAÍS from Connecticut.

They talked about what Duperron would do in London. Michelle asked her if she needed someone to take care of her children while she was traveling. Duperron summarizes that they had a normal conversation between friends. “We did the calculations and said goodbye. Then, during the day, we spoke a lot, like you do with a friend — on the phone, by text message,” the Argentine continues. “In parallel to all this, she was supposedly throwing away bags with parts of I don’t know what. This [narrative] doesn’t match what was supposedly a crime scene.”

Despite being together that morning, it was almost two years before police contacted Duperron to take her statement. “I was her alibi,” Duperron notes. And, therefore, she thought that the authorities would contact her when Michelle and Fotis were arrested for the first time, in June 2019: “I said [to myself]: ‘well, I’m going to be prepared for the police to come to my house and, I don’t know, ask me questions,’” she remembers. “But they never contacted me. And they interviewed and contacted all the people around me.”

The police wrote to her in late-April of 2021, almost two years after Jennifer disappeared and 16 months after Fotis’ suicide. They finally wanted to talk to her about the case.

When asked by EL PAÍS why she didn’t contact the police during all that time, she replies: “I thought about doing it. But I didn’t trust them, because I had seen how they had treated Michelle.”

“I did speak with Michelle’s lawyers,” she clarifies. “I talked to a lot of people who were in charge of the case. It’s not that I kept it to myself and never said anything. But talking to the police… I not only saw what they did to Michelle, but I’ve also seen thousands of documentaries that show that the worst thing you can do is go and talk,” she continues. “Because they have a method of interrogation that leads you to say things that you don’t want to say. I’m not an experienced person [in the legal field]: I’m a graphic designer. Imagine, I’m not prepared to face four police officers.”

In the end, Duperron decided not to speak with the authorities, following the advice of her attorney. In an email responding to the agent who contacted her, Ella Duperron claims to have “realized” that the police were “not interested in hearing anything she had to say” after not having sought her out for “700 days.”

The Troconis family is convinced that, if Michelle weren’t Latina, the trial would have progressed very differently. “They manipulated and fabricated stories to incriminate Michelle, the easiest target, the Latina,” Marisela decries. “The Latina is the perfect scapegoat to accuse, [so that the police can] close the chapter and make the victim’s family happy, because they found someone to blame. But what about Michelle and her family? This is the biggest disgrace.”

“To this day, Michelle feels cheated, used and disenchanted. And you start beating your head: how is it possible that I didn’t realize this before? But you can’t tell if the person is wearing a disguise,” Marisela admits. “It’s difficult to digest. Because everything we’re experiencing is because of Fotis Dulos. In other words, he left behind orphaned children [and] he did what he must have done to his ex-wife… and he ruined the life of the person that he supposedly loved — Michelle — and he destroyed her family, too.”

Translated by Avik Jain Chatlani.

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