State to test evidence in Skakel case
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time
GREENWICH -- The state will conduct tests on its quarter-century-old evidence within the next two weeks and, depending on the results, may ask Michael Skakel for samples of his blood, defense attorney Michael Sherman said.
Skakel will be tried in May for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley. Moxley, a neighbor of Skakel's, was found bludgeoned to death on her Belle Haven lawn near a golf club linked to the Skakel family.
The director of the state's forensic laboratory confirmed material has arrived there for analysis, though she declined to comment on the nature of the evidence.
"There is some material which is here, and I understand there is some material they're still going to bring," said Elaine Pagliaro, acting director of the Department of Public Safety Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden.
If those tests create a need for a sample of Skakel's DNA, Sherman said his client will comply.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who is prosecuting the case against Skakel, and Frank Garr, the prosecution's lead investigator, would not discuss the forensic testing.
The state filed a motion Jan. 8 to take blood and hair samples from Skakel, 41, suggesting prosecutors have evidence linking the killer to the crime through traces of bodily fluid.
The motion reads: "During the investigation of the crime, physical evidence was recovered. The state is having this evidence examined utilizing DNA and other forensic techniques that were not available in 1975."
It would take two working weeks to analyze a sample of Skakel's blood and compare it with evidence obtained and preserved by the state, Pagliaro said.
The process of extracting the DNA would take a few days. The data would then be analyzed by two separate scientists.
Pagliaro said the state's laboratory typically uses blood samples to perform DNA testing using hair samples and typically use a blood sample.
The process of studying DNA -- a twisted, ladderlike molecule containing a person's genetic code -- is straightforward, Pagliaro said. Scientists use a process called PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, which makes copies of selected portions of the DNA that are then used for forensic testing.
Those portions consist of 13 different places on the DNA referred to as loci. The loci vary in length among individuals, Pagliaro said.
"We can determine what DNA profile we have, or what types you demonstrate, by making copies of these specific areas on the DNA," she said. "A profile is developed and stored in a computer program, and that can be compared to any questioned samples."
If the state has DNA evidence, it is possible to survive the 26 years since Moxley's murder.
"We've done a number of cases that are very old, and what we have found is that DNA is a relatively stable molecule," Pagliaro said. "If a sample is not broken down by the presence of bacteria or other materials or chemicals, but is maintained in a relatively dry state or frozen, then we usually have some success obtaining DNA profiles from those samples."
Sherman said neither he nor his client were daunted by the possibility of handing over DNA to the state.
"Michael Skakel didn't commit this crime," Sherman said. "Any physical evidence developed can only point to that fact."
No one was charged in Moxley's slaying for more than 24 years, until Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was arrested in January 2000.
After numerous appeals and motions were exhausted by the prosecution and defense, including defense attempts to have Skakel tried in juvenile court, Judge John Kavanewsky set a trial date for early May. Skakel will be tried as an adult.