Those who pressed the case for justice
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time

We credit a mother's devotion and a prosecutor's commitment to justice for Friday's conviction in the murder of Martha Moxley nearly 27 years ago.

Dorthy Moxley refused to stop trying to find out who killed her 15-year-old daughter, whose body was found on the family's Belle Haven estate in Greenwich on Oct. 31, 1975. Her optimistic persistence never flagged as she spoke to anyone who could make a difference about keeping alive the memory of Martha and bringing to trial whoever was responsible for her horrible slaying.

Jonathan Benedict began building a case in the Moxley murder after becoming state's attorney in 1997. His dogged determination led the next year to the impaneling of a one-judge grand jury that found probable cause to charge Michael Skakel, who surrendered in January 2000 and was found guilty Friday. Mr. Benedict's calm demeanor, plain-spoken manner and solemn approach to the case helped convince the jury that Mr. Skakel bludgeoned his neighbor to death when both were 15.

If these two were the forces behind the conviction, they had help. Frank Garr, a detective with the state's attorney's office, and the late Stephen Carroll, a retired Greenwich police detective who had worked on the case initially and took another look at it 20 years later. Both men turned up evidence that helped build the state's case.

The triumph evident in Dorthy Moxley's words Friday -- "This is Martha's day. This is truly Martha's day." -- had its counterpoint in what her son, John Moxley, had to say. "This is a hollow victory," he told reporters, adding that he and his mother have great sympathy for members of the Skakel family, whom they had known as neighbors when the murder occurred.

It is difficult to understand how the Skakel family and those associated with them have suffered through the years because of implications, innuendoes and finally formal charges against 41-year-old Michael Skakel, who has admitted that as boyhood neighbor he had a crush on the victim when both were 15. The Toney Penna golf club found at the murder scene that police identified as the murder weapon had been traced back to the Skakel household, and Michael Skakel's brother, Thomas, for years had been a suspect in the murder, along with their tutor, Kenneth Littleton. Thomas Skakel's brief appearance in court one day raised its own questions about the arms-length relationship he and Michael Skakel shared.

Another brother, David Skakel, spoke Friday of the toll the family has dealt with, then said, "Michael is innocent. I know this because I know Michael like only a brother does. ... You may want finality to this tragedy, and our family wants this as much as anyone. But truth is more important than closure."

For now, there will be no closure, for the defense attorney in the case, Michael Sherman, pledged, "As long as there's a breath in my body, this case is not over." Appeals and efforts to gain Mr. Skakel's release on bail are in the works.

So is some second-guessing about Mr. Sherman's handling of the trial. From other's accounts and what we have seen of his work in the past, he is a good lawyer. This time, his courtroom prowess was overshadowed by his propensity for theatrics, jokes and good soundbites. He even felt compelled to apologize to the jury during his summation for making jokes in the courtroom. Beyond that, he seemed to take every opportunity this high-profile case allowed to court the media and promote himself. That led to a demonstration Monday outside the courthouse involving two clowns singing "Oh Mickey, you're so fine" and two attorneys jumping through hoops. The overall atmosphere marred a trial about the killing of a teenage girl who had a promising life ahead of her. But Mr. Sherman turned solemn Friday after his client was convicted.

While Mr. Sherman has criticized Superior Court Judge John Kavanesky Jr. and members of the jury for trying to satisfy the Moxleys at the expense of justice, we have only positive feelings about the decorum and dignity they displayed. Clearly, the jurors wanted to be thorough, asking to hear testimony repeated and taking four days to reach a verdict. And the judge avoided any theatrics that have marred other high-profile trials in recent years.

Last, we have the image projected by Michael Skakel, who appears to have suffered substantially over the years as a result of the murder. Testimony about him and his treatment for emotional and substance-abuse problems made it clear to us that the punishment the court sets at sentencing -- which could be as much as life in prison -- will only add to whatever personal torment he felt after the slaying of the girl he purported to love.



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