Prison guards say Skakel gets special treatment
By Dwight F. Blint - Hartford Courant

The way some state prison guards see it, Michael Skakel's life of privilege didn't end with a murder conviction.

Guards at the Newtown prison where he has been awaiting sentencing for the Martha Moxley murder say Skakel has been given preferential treatment since his June 10 arrival.

The guards say Skakel did not have to wait the usual weeks to get into treatment programs and immediately was allowed direct contact with visitors, normally prohibited for new, unsentenced inmates. Rules were bent so that cousin Robert Kennedy Jr. could visit, they charge.

Skakel was even allowed to use a staff bathroom.

"We are outraged that a convicted murderer is shown special treatment and that the Moxley family is again victimized," said Tom Sellas, a state correction officer's union official.

Sellas and a Garner Correctional Institute guard who requested anonymity point to a July 26 visit from Kennedy as an example of Skakel's treatment.

Kennedy, they say, should not have been allowed to visit Skakel because it was not a time when Skakel was permitted social visits. But that didn't stop supervisors from letting Kennedy in, on the premise that the visit from the noted environmental lawyer was of a "professional" nature.

They also noted that Warden Giovanny Gomez, a no-nonsense Army veteran who headed the military lockup at New Jersey's Fort Dix, personally greeted Skakel on his arrival.

Attorney Michael Sherman, who represented Skakel during his trial, called the guards' charges "silly." He said Gomez should check to make sure that a high-profile inmate is treated appropriately.

"This is not the usual prisoner, so this is not the usual attention," Sherman said. "Sometimes the system has to be a little flexible. But it isn't bending over to accommodate him."

State Department of Correction officials also dispute the idea that Skakel is getting special treatment.

"We've done the same things that would have been done for any other inmate," said Karen Oien, an agency spokeswoman.

Skakel, 41, is housed in an in-patient mental health ward away from the prison's most dangerous convicts. He has his own cell.

The guards said that on Skakel's second day at Garner, correction officials allowed him to have a social "contact" visit, which guards say are never allowed for unsentenced felons. Sellas said all other high-level inmates would not have been allowed a visit for about two weeks to allow for a background check of the visitor, and even then, inmates and visitors are separated by a glass partition.

Skakel had 40 visits before the end of his first month of incarceration.

Sherman said Skakel had so many visits because he is faced with numerous criminal issues and has employed numerous attorneys, with whom he meets regularly.

During a July 7 visit, Skakel, who is considered a mental health risk, was allowed to use a staff bathroom that locked from the inside, which correction officers described as dangerous and highly unusual.

The guards said in rare instances an officer will walk an inmate to his cell block to use the bathroom, then return the inmate to the visit. But typically, the visit ends if either party needs to leave the area.

Oien said Skakel was in the midst of a presentence investigation when he asked to use the bathroom. She said a correction officer was monitoring Skakel from outside the bathroom and that a key was available to staff.

Oien said correction records show that Kennedy's visit was allowed because lawyers Hubert J. Santos and Hope C. Seeley, who are handling Skakel's appeal, notified the correction department that Kennedy, who is not licensed to practice law in the state, is helping with Skakel's case.

A call to Kennedy's office for comment was not returned. Neither Santos nor Seeley could be reached for comment. Moxley's mother, Dorthy, also could not be reached for comment.

Sellas said Skakel was registered for substance abuse treatment and enrichment programs within a week. The typical inmate has to meet with counselors to be evaluated before entering such programs. The process takes weeks, they said.

The officers said many inmates want to be in those programs, which defense attorneys often cite in requesting leniency during sentencing or parole hearings. Skakel is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 28.

Oien would not comment on the allegation that Skakel is allowed to keep a breathing machine in his cell because he suffers from sleep apnea -- a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.

Fairfield County State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who prosecuted Skakel's case, said he was not familiar with the guards' allegations and was not concerned. He said his job was to get the conviction.

"After that I leave his situation in the hands of the Department of Correction," Benedict said. "My only concern is how long he is going to be there."

-- Dwight F. Blint is a reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.



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