California native named 11th juror for Skakel trial
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- On a day when several potential jurors in the Michael Skakel murder trial were rejected for knowing too much about the case, a Northern California native came as a breath of fresh air to the muggy courthouse yesterday.
The Wilton resident and father of two young children told attorneys that he didn't follow the case when he was growing up in Walnut Creek, Calif., and he has been too busy to read about it since moving to the East Coast in 1993 and Connecticut in 1999.
"Quite frankly, I didn't even know what Michael Skakel looked like until I came to the courthouse yesterday," said the man, who was selected as the 11th juror.
Skakel, 41, has been charged with the 1975 murder of his Belle Haven neighbor Martha Moxley. Both were 15 at the time.
The man, who is in his 30s and owns a nationwide company specializing in driver education programs, said he travels a great deal for work and spends most of his free time either with his children or working on home improvement projects.
The man said he was only vaguely aware that Skakel was related to the Kennedy family. Skakel's lead attorney, Michael Sherman explained to him that Michael Skakel's aunt, his father's sister Ethel, is Robert F. Kennedy's widow.
"Until you just defined (the relationship) to me, I didn't even know what it was," the juror said.
Responding to more questions from Sherman and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susan Gill, the man said he would weigh the evidence and would not be pressured to follow the crowd.
"You're not going to cave in because it's 11 to 1 either way, are you?" Sherman asked.
"Absolutely not," he responded.
Despite his commitment to making up his own mind, the man said he would listen to input from his fellow jurors and take that into consideration before reaching a decision.
His 650-person company, which runs a traffic education school in Florida and a taxi driver training program in New York, wouldn't be successful if he didn't listen to input from others, he said.
After court adjourned, Sherman said he was impressed with the man, who bears a strong resemblance to the actor Alec Baldwin.
"You couldn't have manufactured a better juror, for either side," Sherman said. "He was just right down the middle."
The 11th juror stood in stark contrast to two other potential jurors who not only knew a great deal about the case, but had decided that Skakel was probably guilty.
A Greenwich woman who was one year behind Moxley in middle school told attorneys that she speaks about the case frequently with her husband and had read all the books and newspaper accounts about it.
"After reading the books, you think, 'Oh, wow, yup, he's got to be guilty,' " she said.
Skakel, who was already visibly uncomfortable in the warm courtroom, clenched his jaw and shook his head as the woman, a part-time secretary at a real estate office in Greenwich, answered questions.
She told Sherman that she was "90 percent" sure she could put all the information she had learned about the case out of her mind and decide Skakel's fate on just the facts presented in court.
Even so, she said part of her wanted Skakel to be found guilty to give the Moxley family some "closure."
As the woman poured herself a glass of water, Sherman used one of his favorite questions to cut to the chase.
"If you had to vote right now, how would you vote," he asked.
"Guilty," she said without any hesitation.
"You can take your water with you," Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. told her before dismissing the woman.
Another woman said she had read best-selling author Dominick Dunne's books and articles in Vanity Fair about the case and had been persuaded by them.
"I do feel that Michael Skakel committed this crime," she said.
A Belle Haven resident was dismissed without even being questioned because his jury questionnaire indicted that he knew many of the witnesses in the case.
An executive at a small computer company also was excused. The man, who did not say what town he lived in but said he attends church in Ridgefield, told Sherman that he had recently read articles about the case in The Advocate.
On Monday, the newspaper ran an article by Newsday's Leonard Levitt that explained how Frank Garr, the state's lead investigator on the case, happened upon a napkin with a note written on it about Michael Skakel's polygraph test being canceled.
"I recall that Mr. Littleton and Mr. Skakel's brother Tommy, had taken a polygraph test, and Michael Skakel was scheduled to take a polygraph test and his father (canceled it)," the man said.
Sherman took issue with the version of events outlined in the story, asking the man what he would think if he learned that this was not true. Sherman asked the judge to dismiss the man "for cause," but in a rare move, Kavanewsky declined, forcing Sherman to use one of his challenges, which allows him to remove a juror without giving a reason. Each attorney gets 18 challenges.
Outside the courtroom, Sherman declined to elaborate beyond repeating that he felt the story was inaccurate.
"I'm saying that we don't believe that that's true," Sherman said. "I don't believe that inspector Garr's account was accurate."
Garr could not be reached for comment.