Skakel Hires Noted Lawyer

By J.A. Johnson Jr.
(Staff Writer)
GREENWICH TIME (July 25, 1998)

GREENWICH - As a grand jury probes the unsolved 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley, murder suspect Michael Skakel has hired a noted Stamford defense attorney to represent him. Michael Sherman, a 51-year-old Greenwich native and former town prosecutor, yesterday confirmed Skakel hired him earlier this week to represent him in connection with the grand jury's investigation into the 15-year-old girl's brutal murder.

" Obviously, this is a critical time in the case, and that's why Michael needs representation," Sherman said. Sherman would not discuss his client's guilt or innocence, saying, "I'm so new on the case I'm not in a position to pontificate or posture at this stage of the game." Skakel previously was represented by Manhattan attorney Thomas Sheridan Jr., who could not be reached for comment late yesterday afternoon. Sherman would not comment on why he was now the suspect's attorney. "There's nothing untoward with regard to Mr. Sheridan; I just have no comment," he said.

Skakel, who was a 15-year-old neighbor of Moxley in 1975, is one of three suspects identified by police. His brother, Thomas, who was 17 when the murder occurred has also been named as a suspect. The Skakels are nephews of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. The third suspect is Kenneth Littleton, a family tutor who moved into the Skakel house the night Moxley was killed.

Both Skakel brothers were with Moxley the night she was beaten and stabbed with a golf club police said came from a set of clubs owned by the Skakel family. No one has ever been charged with the murder, which authorities have said is largely a circumstantial case, and the Skakel family has been accused by officials of hindering the investigation by not allowing the brothers to be questioned.

Although Connecticut prosecutors cannot issue subpoenas to try to compel cooperation, the one-judge investigatory grand jury appointed last month to probe the Moxley case does have subpoena power. Court watchers have speculated that the Moxley grand juror, Superior Court Judge George N. Thim, will subpoena members of the Skakel family.

Though Sherman has never represented anyone being investigated under the one- judge grand jury system, which operates in secrecy, he said, "I believe the (grand jury) law's pretty clear, and I know what to expect." Witnesses called before the grand juror are allowed to consult with counsel before answering questions. Unlike during a trial, witnesses may be asked leading questions under grand jury rules.

Grand jury testimony got under way at the Fairfield County Court House in Bridgeport July 10. Assisting Thim in the questioning is State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict.

Sherman vaulted into the national spotlight in 1985 - in a Stamford trial over which Thim presided - after hiring a former juror as a consultant in the retrial of an accused rapist. Critics, including prominent Hartford attorney Ralph Elliot, declared the arrangement was a violation of the juror's oath, arguing it might prompt jurors to intentionally deadlock so they land consulting jobs for retrials. Proponents defended Sherman's novel maneuver as a means of expanding the notion of hired experts. The practice of hiring former jurors was outlawed by the General Assembly the following year, when it passed a statute that some referred to as the "Sherman Law." Even with the juror from the first trial assisting him, Sherman failed to sway the second jury and his client was convicted.

Sherman again gained national attention as a pioneer of the post-traumatic stress disorder defense, which in 1990 he employed to win an acquittal on a murder charge for a Stamford Vietnam War veteran. The vet said he shot an unarmed man during a parking dispute under the influence of psychological residue from his combat experience.

The lawyer was most recently in the news for representing Glenn Stewart, a truck driver accused of manslaughter for the 1996 highway death of a 3 1/2 -month-old Arianna Schmidt, who was thrown from her mother's car after it was struck by Stewart's vehicle on Interstate 95 in Greenwich. Following a weeklong trial in April, Stewart was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Thanks to J.A. Johnson Jr. for the article.