STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The estranged husband of Connecticut mother-of-five Jennifer Dulos pressured an employee to get rid of pickup truck seats that would later become evidence in the investigation of her 2019 killing, the worker testified Tuesday as he described getting tangled up in the case unwittingly.
Pawel Gumienny, 43, is a key witness in the trial of Michelle Troconis, who is accused of helping her boyfriend, Dulos’ husband, cover up the killing afterward. Troconis denies charges of conspiracy to commit murder, evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.
Gumienny was an employee of Fotis Dulos, who was going through a bitter divorce and child custody battle with Jennifer Dulos when she vanished from her home in New Canaan, Connecticut, on May 24, 2019. Fotis Dulos died by suicide in January 2020 shortly after being charged with murdering her — which he denied.
Police allege Fotis Dulos drove Gumienny’s pickup truck to New Canaan that day, rode a bicycle to Jennifer Dulos’ home, attacked her there after she returned from dropping off their children at school and drove off with her in her own SUV. Her body has never been found, but a probate judge declared her dead last October.
The case has drawn widespread attention and was the subject of a made-for-TV movie. Jennifer Dulos, 50, was a member of a wealthy New York family and a niece by marriage of fashion designer Liz Claiborne. Fotis Dulos was a luxury home builder originally from Greece.
On the 18th day of the trial in Stamford, Gumienny testified that Fotis Dulos, in the week after his wife disappeared, had the pickup truck cleaned inside and out at a car wash and pressured Gumienny to replace the front seats of the truck with other ones. Gumienny said he was growing suspicious as Jennifer Dulos remained missing, but he didn’t think Fotis Dulos was capable of killing her.
Under questioning by prosecutor Sean McGuinness, Gumienny said he got frustrated at one point and asked Fotis Dulos why he had the truck cleaned.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing going on. … I just want to clean everything. The police might come in. They find something, they destroy my name, destroy the company name,’ ” Gumienny testified.
Gumienny said he then asked Fotis Dulos why he wanted to change out the truck seats, which Fotis Dulos told him to get rid of so they wouldn’t be found.
“He said, ‘Can we not talk about it. Can you just do it?’ He kept on pressing me and pressing me on it. … He was growing angry,” Gumienny said.
Gumienny did replace the truck seats, but he kept the old ones and gave them to police. Authorities later said testing indicated Jennifer Dulos’ blood was on one of the old seats.
Gumienny also said Fotis Dulos, a month or two before his wife vanished, showed him and another employee a photo of her house and asked them if they saw any cameras. Gumienny said he didn’t see any, but he added: “She can record you with anything. Just don’t do anything stupid when you go there.”
Troconis’ lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn, objected to Gumienny’s testimony about what Fotis Dulos said, calling it hearsay and requesting a mistrial. Judge Kevin Randolph said the testimony was permitted and denied the request.
Schoenhorn was expected to cross-examine Gumienny on Wednesday.
Gumienny also testified that Troconis said disparaging things about Jennifer Dulos.
Sometime before Jennifer Dulos vanished, Fotis Dulos was upset about having to put down his ailing dog, and Troconis said Jennifer Dulos should be buried next to the dog, in an apparent effort to cheer him up, Gumienny said.
In a conversation with Gumienny a week after the disappearance, Troconis was upset that her and her daughter’s photos had been posted online by the media and said she was going to “kill” Jennifer Dulos when she reappeared, he testified.
Jennifer Dulos and the children had moved out of the family’s home in Farmington, where Fotis Dulos was living with Troconis and her daughter in 2019.
Gumienny, a native of Poland who came to the U.S. in 2000 and got a green card, was given immunity from criminal charges by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
Outside of court Tuesday, Troconis’ sister told news media that the family has received hundreds of letters supporting Troconis and calling her a good person and good mother who would never hurt anyone.
“I hope that we can continue to (demonstrate) that she had nothing to do with the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos,” her sister, Marisela, said.
While most of the trial has focused on Fotis Dulos, prosecutors say evidence also incriminates Troconis. Police said Troconis went with Fotis Dulos when he had Gumienny’s truck cleaned, and she also accompanied him on a trip to Hartford where Fotis Dulos is seen on video throwing away garbage bags in random containers.
Police found some of the bags and said they contained clothing, zip ties and other items containing Jennifer Dulos’ DNA. Some of the items, including a shirt and bra, had blood-like stains on them. Some items had Fotis Dulos’ DNA on them, and one bag tested positive for Troconis’ DNA. Schoenhorn said Fotis Dulos could have touched Troconis and spread her DNA onto that bag.
Police also said Troconis helped Fotis Dulos write up a timeline of their activities to prepare for potential questioning by police. Troconis told police she only did that at the request of Fotis Dulos and his lawyer.
Gumienny said Fotis Dulos also asked him to write down his whereabouts around the time Jennifer Dulos disappeared, but he refused.
“I was surprised,” Gumienny said. “I told him, ‘What am I going to do? If police is going to come over and ask me, I’m going to pull out a piece of paper and read it to them?’ ”