Transfer of Skakel Case Expected

Prosecutor contemplates dropping
charges if case stays in juvenile court


Kellie A. Wagner, The Connecticut Law Tribune

Both prosecution and defense teams are expecting 39-year-old Michael Skakel to stand trial as an adult for the 1975 murder of Greenwich, Conn., teenager Martha Moxley.

Connecticut State's Attorney Jonathan C. Benedict said that while it is conceivable that Judge Maureen Dennis might keep the Skakel case in juvenile court, he was confident the case would be transferred to Superior Court.

Benedict said he might not prosecute Skakel should Dennis decide he should be tried as a juvenile.

Dennis handed down her memorandum of decision on August 17, ruling the state had proved reasonable cause to proceed against the Kennedy cousin for the brutal slaying of his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley.

Under the state's Transfer Act of 1970, Dennis cannot ship the case to Superior Court until a probation officer has investigated Skakel's background. Among other things, the probation officer must consider whether or not there is a facility to house Skakel should he be tried as a juvenile, and whether the safety of the community requires Skakel to be jailed at all.

Benedict said that if Skakel were to remain in a juvenile setting, it would be fruitless for the state to pursue the case.

"There would be no remedy," Benedict said of trying to punish Skakel under juvenile terms. "There would be no probation. No jail time. You'd be trying a case for nothing,"

According to Benedict, juveniles in 1975 were often not charged with a specific crime but rather labeled as juvenile delinquents who could be rehabilitated, rather than jailed, at the court's discretion.

In addition, the statue of limitations for sentencing juveniles in 1975 was five years, or until the child became an adult.

"It is kind of obvious the court did not contemplate a case with a 39-year-old defendant," Benedict said.

Skakel's Stamford, Conn., attorney, Michael "Mickey" Sherman, of Sherman & Richichi, said he was very surprised Benedict said he might not pursue the case if it remained at the juvenile level.

But Sherman said it made sense.

"It is logical," Sherman said. "John is a very straight forward, no-nonsense guy. I give him a lot of credit."

Sherman said he too expects the case will be transferred to Superior Court. He said he still disagrees with Dennis on her finding of probable cause.

"Obviously I disagree," Sherman also told Court TV earlier this month. "I don't believe reasonable cause does exist. But I'm not shocked."

Dennis said in her decision that she found state's witnesses John Higgins and Gregory Coleman, classmates of Skakel's from Maine's Elan School for troubled youth, as well as Andrew Pugh, a neighbor of Skakel's from Greenwich, credible and that none of the defense's witnesses directly refuted the essence of their testimony.

Tara Knight, a criminal law specialist with New Haven, Conn.'s Knight & Conway who aided the Elan School counsel during earlier grand jury proceedings against Skakel, said she disagreed with Dennis on the credibility of the witnesses from the school.

"I am familiar with the evidence and it's shocking," Knight said of the witnesses' inconsistent testimony. "These are 25-year-old memories of substance abusers."

Knight did agree with Benedict that prosecuting Skakel as a juvenile would be a waste of time, especially since Skakel has lead an exemplary life since he left the Elan School in the late 1970's.

However, Frank Garr, one of the original investigators of the Moxley murder with the Greenwich Police Department, predicted the case would be transferred to an adult court within a month.

"It always bothered me that never enough work was done in investigating Michael," said Garr, now an inspector in Benedict's office.

Both Garr and Benedict said they had "a lot more evidence" to present against Skakel, should the case be transferred, but declined to comment further.

David Fein, an attorney with Stamford's Wiggin & Dana representing the media, has asked Dennis to open court records in the case, including the arrest warrant and supporting affidavits. Dennis has sealed the records as they would be in juvenile court. Fein said he is keeping a close watch over whether the case will be transferred, and is concerned Dennis would keep the records sealed even if Skakel is transferred to Superior Court.

"There would be very compelling reasons for us to have them opened," Fein said.



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