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The tortuous fall of Tom Capano

From the embodiment of American dream to horror story

Originally published Jan. 31, 1999.

 He was the golden boy, the A student, the captain of the football team, the student council president, the hardworking, oldest son in a proud immigrant family of men who earned their living working with their hands.

 His grandfather was a stonemason, his father a carpenter.

 He himself went to college and then law school.

 When he earned his law degree, his father, who had come to this country from Italy as a boy, cried.

 It was the American Dream fulfilled.

 Thomas J. Capano had the world sitting in front of him.

 For the next 25 years, he lived a life most people would envy.

 "He had it all," one of his lawyers said last week. "Had it all, and he threw it away. "

 Convicted of murder this month, Capano , 49, sat stoically Thursday night in a third-floor courtroom as the jury that had found him guilty of the 1996 slaying of his former lover, Anne Marie Fahey, recommended that he be sentenced to death by lethal injection.

 Though not binding, the jury's 10-2 vote in favor of execution must, by law, carry "great weight" when Superior Court Judge William Swain Lee decides what sentence to impose.

 Sentencing is expected within two or three months. The options are death or life without parole.

 Either way, a family member sadly noted last week, Tom Capano comes out of prison in a coffin.

 It is the American Dream gone bad.

 * The how of the Tom Capano murder case has been gone over in lurid detail for months now.

 The story of sex, power, greed and betrayal that led to the June 27, 1996, murder of Anne Marie Fahey drew near-capacity crowds to the courtroom on most days during the 12-week trial.

 Capano , a wealthy and politically connected lawyer, was convicted of killing Fahey, the scheduling secretary to Gov. Tom Carper, because she refused to resume an affair that she had broken off in the fall of 1995.

 Fahey, 30, apparently died of a gunshot wound to the head in the den of the sprawling home on Grant Avenue here that Capano rented after separating from his wife.

 Capano insisted the shooting was accidental and caused by another of his lovers. But he admitted that, the next morning, after stuffing Fahey's body into a plastic ice chest, he and his brother Gerard took the chest 60 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean and dumped it, along with the gun used to kill her.

 Neither the body nor the .22-caliber Beretta has been found.

 Fahey, tall and vivacious with a charming smile and an infectious laugh, was 17 years younger than Capano . They began their affair late in 1993, according to her diary.

 He was married with four daughters and, it would turn out, a string of lovers.

 She was single, living on the edge financially and battling private demons, including a deep-seated insecurity that triggered frequent bouts with anorexia.

 Capano , the prosecution argued, was a man whose antenna picked up on vulnerable woman. He played to their insecurities, insinuated himself into their lives, and eventually tried to control and manipulate them.

 The signature phrase of the 17-month investigation that led to his arrest and conviction was the last entry in Fahey's diary, an April 1996 notation about finally bringing "closure" to Tom Capano :

 She described him as a "controlling, manipulative, insecure, jealous maniac."

 * It is the why of the murder case that remains the mystery.

 Why would a man who, many would argue, had so much going for him - a man who was managing partner of a major law firm, a man with political and social status, with family wealth and a six-figure income, with a wife and other lovers - become so obsessed with Fahey that her rejection of him would lead him to murder her?

 Why couldn't he just walk away?

 Why couldn't he just decide that the other women in his life would more than adequately fill the void?

 "You look at all he had, and you have to ask the question," said Robert Fahey, one of Anne Marie's four brothers: "Why did he have to kill her? "

 Perhaps it is enough to accept the explanation offered by state Prosecutor Ferris Wharton at a bail hearing last year, when he said the motive for the murder was simple: "If he couldn't have her, no one else would. "

 The Tom Capano portrayed to the jury by the prosecution was a self-absorbed man who cared only about himself, who mentally used and abused women, who could not take no for an answer.

 This was the man, investigators said, who killed Anne Marie Fahey.

 But it was not, his family tearfully argued last week, the man they knew.

 "The Tom you see here is not the Tom I know," said Gerard Capano , 36, as he sadly begged the jury to spare his brother by recommending a life sentence. "I don't know how to explain it. . . . I don't know what happened. "

 One after another, members of the Capano family took the witness stand during the penalty phase of the trial and asked for mercy and posed the same question as Gerard, a key prosecution witness.

 None knew what had happened to Tom Capano . None said they could recognize the man described by the prosecution.

 Tom Capano was the brother who studied the hardest, who was always reading books, who was an altar boy, who helped his older sister wash the pots and pans after dinner, who mediated disputes between his younger brothers, who never gave his parents a moment's trouble.

 "All mothers love their children the same," said Marian Ramunno, 54, the oldest of the Capano siblings and the only sister, "but there's always one child who is easier to like. Tom was easy to like. He was the golden boy."

 "Tom was the perfect brother," said Louis Capano Jr., 47. "He was my role model."

 "He was a young man full of hopes," said Lee Ramunno, Capano's brother-in-law, as he described the day Capano passed the Delaware bar exam and officially became a lawyer. "He was determined to make his parents proud of him. "

 And he did. After law school, he returned to Wilmington, where he served as state prosecutor, city solicitor, chief administrator in the Mayor's Office, and counsel to the governor.

 Tom Capano , the grandson of a bricklayer, the son of a carpenter, had taken the family's hard-earned wealth and turned it into status. He had become a player in circles that his immigrant father and grandfather would never have been permitted to travel in.

 But the golden boy had a dark side.

 As early as 1978, shortly before his first daughter was born to his wife, Kay, Capano began a string of extramarital affairs.

 He harassed and threatened a woman who spurned him in 1980, telling her that she would have to leave the city if he couldn't have her - because "this is my town. "

 In 1981, he started what would become a 17-year affair with the wife of a former law-firm associate. Deborah MacIntyre, the lover whom Capano later blamed for Fahey's death, was there for him whenever he called. She would even, she testified, have sex with other men while he watched.

 MacIntyre bought Capano a handgun at his request in May 1996, six weeks before Fahey was killed. But, she insisted, she played no part in the murder, was not there that night, as Capano alleged, and, in fact, did not even know about Fahey until three days after the woman was reported missing.

 MacIntyre was Capano 's Wednesday-night girl, the woman who shared takeout dinners, stayed home, and watched videos with him.

 It was the younger women in his life, Fahey and a legal secretary named Susan Louth, who got to accompany him to dinners at fancy restaurants in Philadelphia.

 Ever discreet, Capano told the jury that though he cheated on his wife, he would never "embarrass her" by squiring his lovers around Wilmington, where they might be seen and become the topic of small-town, hurtful gossip.

 It was one of several attempts he made to put a noble spin on his actions, attempts that, given the jury's verdict and death-sentence recommendation, failed miserably.

 * Kay Ryan, a pediatric nurse who divorced Capano in November after 26 years of marriage and four daughters, has said little publicly about her life with the now-notorious convicted murderer.

 But in brief testimony last week, she offered a glimpse of her feelings.

 "I am as repulsed by his vile actions and behavior as most of you here in this courtroom," said the thin, dark-haired woman, even as she asked the jury to spare his life for their daughters' sake.

 Marian Ramunno, offering a softer take, told the jury that most Capano family members, herself included, had been unaware of his string of extramarital relationships. When they came to light during the murder investigation, she said, she asked him why he had never told her.

 She said he had a simple explanation: "It was private."

 Today, there is little private about the rise and fall of Thomas J. Capano .

 After his high-profile trial and the national publicity it has attracted, he has become the latest example of the corrupting influence of power and fame and status in a society that values those things far more than character and integrity.

 "He used to have lunch at the finest restaurants," O'Donnell, his lawyer, told the jury last week as he pleaded for a life sentence. "Now, he'll be eating baloney-and-cheese sandwiches for the rest of his life.

 "This was a man who could travel the world. Now, wherever he goes, he'll be shuffling in leg irons."

 Tom Capano , the golden boy, is no more.

George Anastasia INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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