Michael Skakel Will Be Tried as Adult:
Judge orders transfer of murder case to
Norwalk/Stamford, Conn., Superior Court.
By Kellie A. Wagner - The Conn. Law Tribune

When criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman was told about Judge Maureen Dennis' decision regarding the fate of his client Michael Skakel, Sherman picked up the call using his cellular phone -- while snowboarding in Aspen, Colorado, where he was attending a criminal defense convention.

On Jan. 31 Dennis ruled that Skakel would be tried as an adult in the 1975 murder of his Greenwich, Conn., neighbor, Martha Moxley. Dennis ordered the case transferred to the Norwalk/Stamford Superior Court, ending months of speculation about whether the now 40-year-old defendant would be tried as a juvenile as 1975 law suggests, or face a jury trial as an adult.

After conducting some 20 interviews while literally swishing down a mountain, Sherman said he was only mildly disappointed about Dennis' decision. "I'm not bummed," Skakel said in an interview. "I'm not crestfallen by any means."

Many criminal defense attorneys, including Sherman, expected that Dennis would transfer the case from Juvenile Court to Superior Court, in what has proven to be one of the most legally challenging cases to ever be heard in Connecticut. Dennis wrote in her decision that, although the Juvenile Court had the authority to commit a child, who was considered an adjudicated delinquent, to an institution, her decision must "narrowly focus on the availability and suitability of state institutions 'designed for the care and treatment of children.' "

In her ruling, Dennis wrote that no juvenile facilities could house Skakel if tried as a juvenile. She added that because the state's Department of Children and Youth Services, which is normally responsible for committing delinquents, prohibited the placement of anyone over the age of 18, she was transferring the case to Superior Court.

"This court further finds that the facilities of the adult criminal division of the Superior Court afford and provide a more effective setting for the disposition of this case," Dennis wrote. "And the institutions to which the adult criminal division of the Superior Court may sentence a defendant are more suitable for the care and treatment of this respondent, should he be found guilty of the murder of Martha Moxley."

On Oct. 30, 1975, Moxley was found in a pile of blood underneath a pine tree near her home; she had been stabbed repeatedly with a piece of a broken golf club, her pants pulled down to her ankles. Investigators had determined that pieces of the club belonged to the Skakel family, although the club's shaft still remains missing.

No trial date has yet been set for the murder case.

Sherman said he would promptly file a new motion to dismiss the case, based on the statute of limitations in effect in 1975, which prohibits a crime, even murder, from being prosecuted after five years.

Sherman and his colleagues defending the case had previously filed a motion to dismiss on the statute of limitations issue, but Dennis called the move "premature" and took no action on it.

She did, however, decide to keep the case in Stamford, although there were no facilities in the city to hear criminal matters in 1975, instead of transferring the case out of the district.

Sherman said that decision by Dennis was a "nice bonus" for his defense, because it would allow Skakel to be tried by a jury of his peers.

"I wasn't looking forward to it," Sherman said about the possibility of a court battle if Dennis had transferred the trial to Bridgeport. "I was not expecting [Dennis] to rule on that."

Fairfield State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who is expected to remain on the case, had requested the case be transferred to Superior Court in Bridgeport.

Fairfield State's Attorney Investigator Frank Garr, who has worked on the Moxley case since 1975, said he was very pleased with Dennis' decision.

We anticipated we would receive this ruling," Garr said. "We believe it is the right and correct solution."

Dennis' decision to try Skakel as an adult brought mixed reactions from other defense counsel in the state.

Criminal defense attorney Avery Chapman of New Haven said the ruling may have felt "right to a lot of people" but questioned the constitutionality of the decision and the applicability of laws existing in 1975.

"It raises constitutional issues that [Skakel] was entitled to avail himself of the laws that existed when this crime was committed," Chapman said. Stamford criminal defense solo Robert Skovgaard said Dennis' decision was the only appropriate choice to make in light of some extraordinary circumstances. He added that the ruling was not only a victory for the state, but for the defense as well.

"It is the kind of case, as defense counsel, you'd rather try to a jury than a judge," Skovgaard said.

Administrative Judge Edward R. Karazin Jr., of the Norwalk/Stamford judicial district, has assigned Skakel's case to the presiding criminal judge, John F. Kavanewsky Jr.

Karazin also credited Dennis with handling such a difficult case with professionalism.

"Judge Dennis is a terrific judge," Karazin said. "She worked hard on this thing."

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