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Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials: 1966 & 1967

Round One, Devastating Cross-examination, Florida Fights Back, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Carl Anthony Coppolino
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Joseph Afflitto, F. Lee Bailey, and Joseph Mattice
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: Vincent Keuper; second trial: Frank Schaub
Judges: First trial: Elvin R. Simmill; second trial: Lynn Silvertooth
Places: First trial: Monmouth County, New Jersey; second trial: Naples, Florida
Dates of Trials: First trial: December 5-15, 1966; second trial: April 3-28, 1967
Verdicts: First trial: Not guilty; second trial: Guilty, second-degree homicide

SIGNIFICANCE: The two trials of Dr. Carl Anthony Coppolino are case studies in the importance juries attach to an ostensibly discredited witness. In the first trial they chose to disbelieve a self-confessed accessory to murder and were swayed instead by the welter of contradictory forensic evidence. A second jury, confronted by much the same forensic testimony alone, arrived at a very different verdict.

In 1966 a conversation between two women in Florida sparked one of the most hotly contested debates in American legal history: Did Dr. Carl Coppolino murder his wife and his ex-lover's husband, or was he merely the hapless victim of jealous revenge? Two trials, in two states, arrived at very different answers.

At age 30, Coppolino, a New Jersey anesthesiologist, had been declared medically unfit for work because of a heart condition. Supported by a disability benefit, royalties from writing, and the salary of his wife Carmela, also a physician, Coppolino began a torrid affair with 48-year-old housewife Marjorie Farber, a vivacious woman who looked much younger than her years. Marjorie Farber's husband William Farber, at first tolerated the liaison, then grew resentful.

On the evening of July 30, 1963, Marjorie Farber telephoned the Coppolinos in a state of panic. William Farber was unconscious in the bedroom. Could Carl come over immediately? Coppolino, wary of losing his benefits if caught practicing, sent Carmela Coppolino instead. She found Farber dead. Apart from being "all blue down one side," there was no outward sign of distress to the body. At Coppolino's urging, she signed the death certificate, citing coronary thrombosis as the cause.

Over the next 18 months Coppolino's affair with Farber waned, and, in April 1965, the Coppolinos moved to Longboat Key, Florida. Disaster struck when Carmela Coppolino failed the Florida medical examination. Coppolino, in desperate need of money, began dating a wealthy divorcee named Mary Gibson.

At 6:00 A.M. August 28, 1965, the Coppolino family physician, Dr. Juliette Karow, was awakened by a phone call. She heard Coppolino tearfully describe how he had just found his wife dead, ostensibly from a heart attack. Karow was puzzled when she arrived at the house—young women in their 30s rarely suffer coronary failure—but she found no evidence of foul play and duly signed the certificate. Forty-one days later Coppolino married Mary Gibson.

Marjorie Farber, who had pursued Coppolino to Florida in hopes of resurrecting their romance, was incensed by this turn of events. She went to Dr. Karow and unburdened her soul. It was a sensational tale, one that would fill front pages across the nation for months: how she had been hypnotized into attempting murder, then stood by, a helpless onlooker, as her husband was smothered to death by Dr. Carl Coppolino.

Both New Jersey and Florida ordered exhumations. The autopsies were performed by Dr. Milton Helpern, New York's chief medical examiner. He found evidence of succinylcholine chloride, an artificial form of curare used by anesthesiologists, in both bodies. Also, Farber's cricoid—a cartilage in the larynx—was fractured, indicating that he had been strangled. These findings led to dual charges of homicide being filed against Coppolino.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972