After an earlier fight, Farrell’s parents urged him not to return to Rowan
By Noreen Kohl
The Donnie Project
Nobody ever said Donnie Farrell was perfect.
In most ways, he was as typically imperfect as anyone at 19: Sometimes stubborn, sometimes impetuous, sometimes boisterous, a guy who liked people and liked to party. Sometimes too much.
Sometimes, it got him into trouble.
Months before his murder, Farrell was involved in an incident just off campus, an aggravated assault case which — while unrelated to the later fatal attack — changed what would be the rest of his short life as a student.
If things had gone slightly differently, had he not been so determined to return to the university he’d grown to love, Donnie Farrell might not have been at Rowan that night in October.
On April 20, 2007, then a Rowan freshman, Farrell attended a keg party on Heston Road. Later that evening, there was a fight, and Farrell was beaten outside the house by other students. It left him with a broken jaw and resulted in criminal charges and, ultimately, a lawsuit filed by Farrell’s parents after his death.
Farrell had gone to the party without his usual group of friends, and was with a group of girls his parents say he didn’t know well. There are different versions of exactly what happened at the party, but there was a verbal dispute with another man, possibly over a girl.
Colin Donovan, then 20; David Stahl, then 21; and owner of the house Thomas Capo, then 19, were accused of attacking Donnie outside after he was kicked out of the party.
Glassboro Police records say Stahl conspired with Donovan and Capo to remove Farrell from the party and take him outside where they would beat him up. According to records, Capo put his hands around Farrell’s neck to prevent him from getting away, then Donovan punched him in the face, “causing his jaw to be broken in two places as well as breaking three teeth.”
In a series of recent email exchanges with The Donnie Project, Capo disputed that account. He denied holding Farrell back for the punch, and said the charges as listed in police records are “absolutely false.”
The case remains a sore spot on both sides — for the Farrells, who felt their son was targeted, and for Capo, who maintains Donnie was drunk, rowdy and likely unable to remember the night’s events clearly. Another of Farrell’s friends, Max Levine, confirmed the two had been drinking together before Farrell went to the party on Heston Road.
Donovan later admitted to punching Farrell in the face, but claimed to have acted in self-defense — something his father said doesn’t make sense. Donnie was at the party basically alone, Don Farrell said.
Capo said he and his roommates asked Farrell to leave the party on Heston Road after he punched one of Capo’s friends. Capo says they decided to end the party “because it was getting late anyway,” but Farrell refused to leave.
Capo said it’s true one of his roommates escorted Donnie outside but said Farrell then got mouthy, looking for others to fight. To prevent him from “fighting anyone else,” Capo, with two friends following, then “escorted Donnie down the block past the neighbor’s house and on to Carpenter Street.”
“When my friends caught up with us, I turned to say something to them,” Capo said recently. “At the same time Donnie lunged forward and tried to fight one of my friends. My friend retaliated with a single punch. That stopped him. He did not fall to the ground. He turned and walked away.”
In an email, Capo claimed Farrell later changed his story about what happened that night, and that the incident “consisted of a single lunge by Donald toward one of my friends and a single relation (one punch) in self defense.”
While the Farrells acknowledge Donnie was not without fault that night — “everyone was drunk,” Kathy Farrell said — they feel he was targeted for attack. The Farrells said Donnie told them that before he was punched one of his assailants had said, “This is for my friend.”
Whatever happened, the punch was hard enough that it broke Farrell’s jaw and teeth.
Later that weekend Kathy, a nurse, assisted the oral surgeon who wired his jaw shut. In the weeks ahead, she drove him back and forth to Rowan as Donnie finished the semester’s classes and took his finals.
He made the Dean’s list that spring.
When the next school year came around, Kathy urged her son not to return to Rowan. On Donnie’s recovery and dealing with aftermath of the assault, Don said, “it was very tough for us to see Donnie go through it.”
Media attention on the April incident picked up after Farrell’s murder in October, 2007. Stories focused on questions about whether the two attacks were related, which was quickly ruled out by investigators.
“I do feel bad for what eventually happened to Donnie,” said Capo.
Farrell worked through the summer at Deer Lake Club in his hometown of Boonton, determined to return to Rowan in the fall.
Donnie said he returned to Rowan because, “I’m not gonna let them win,” Kathy Farrell said.
In September 2007, the university held a disciplinary hearing on campus. Donovan was placed on year-long suspension but was allowed to register for classes the spring semester of 2009. No disciplinary action was taken against Capo and Stahl.
Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona would not provide further details about testimony at the disciplinary hearings, citing privacy laws. Public records show that as of October 2007, Donovan, Capo, and Stahl were charged with aggravated assault, but the the case and charges were dropped after Farrell’s death.
In 2009, the Farrells sued Donovan, Capo, and Stahl.
The Farrells said they waited until the end of the period of time in which they could litigate to do so based on advice from their lawyer, Brian Kincaid. The Farrells wanted to see how the case played out in Glassboro before suing Donnie’s assailants.
“It wasn’t for the money,” Don Farrell, but an attempt to get some measure of justice for Donnie. The case was settled out of court.
Noreen Kohl is a junior journalism major, also studying sociology and ethics. She has worked with several online and multimedia outlets and contributes to The Whit.