Juvenile court to hear case
By Thomas Mellana - Greenwich Time
Twenty-four years after the beating and stabbing death of Martha Moxley, former neighbor and Kennedy nephew Michael Skakel surrendered himself to Greenwich police and was charged with her murder yesterday.
Skakel, who was released on $500,000 bond after meeting briefly with police, flew up from his Hobe Sound, Fla., home yesterday morning, after his attorney informed him of a pending arrest warrant.
Skakel, now 39, was charged with murder as a juvenile, as he was 15 when the crime was committed. But state investigators indicated they will seek to have him tried as an adult. Skakel has denied wrongdoing.
Reached at her New Jersey home yesterday, Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, said it was difficult to put into words the emotions she felt now that her 24-year wait is over.
"It's very bittersweet," she said. "It's so sad to think that this had to happen in the first place. But I am glad we are making progress.
"Right now it hasn't sunk in," she said. "It's going to take a few days for me to realize what's happening."
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict announced yesterday morning at a press conference in Bridgeport he had secured an arrest warrant on the recommendation of a grand jury that concluded an 18-month investigation on Jan. 1.
Skakel is to be arraigned Feb. 8 in Juvenile Court in Stamford.
Benedict did not reveal the name of the suspect, but Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, confirmed during yesterday's press conference that it was his client. Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy - the widow of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy - and a former neighbor of Moxley's, was last seen with the 15-year-old girl on Halloween eve 1975, the night she was killed.
"As I speak, steps are being taken to make an arrest," Benedict said to a forest of television cameras, microphones and reporters in a crowded conference room at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn.
The scene was one that often seemed impossible during the years since Moxley's death.
"This is a day a lot of people thought would never come," said Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native and journalist whose book "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community" chronicled the murder investigation and the unsolved crime's lasting effect on the town.
Skakel's name, however, came as no surprise. In news reports, books, television shows and enough backyard gossip to fill racks of tabloids, Skakel and his older brother Thomas have been suspects for years.
The Greenwich Police Department in that time has been criticized for early forensic mistakes and reverential treatment toward the powerful and wealthy Skakel family, despite early indications one of their sons could be involved.
"For the community, this is a very important day," Greenwich Police Chief Peter Robbins said yesterday. "It's a relief to have this step in the process take place."
Martha Moxley's body was found beneath a tree in the yard of her Belle Haven home on Oct. 31, 1975. She had been out in the neighborhood the night before with a group of teenagers, including the Skakels. Police say she was beaten and stabbed through the neck with a 6-iron golf club identified as coming from a set owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street. Michael and Thomas Skakel, 15 and 17 respectively, were both with Martha the night of her death.
After initially cooperating with investigators, the Skakel family hired defense attorneys who cut off all access. The case lay dormant until the 1990s, when renewed press and media interest, including an investigative report by Greenwich Time and books by Dumas, Dominic Dunne and Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman helped set into motion events that led to the appointment of the grand jury, which convened in June 1998.
"This provides some degree of closure for the Police Department," Robbins said outside Greenwich police headquarters.
With Robbins was Frank Garr, the retired Greenwich detective who is the state's attorney's lead investigator on the case. Through the course of the investigation, Garr has followed the case more closely than any other law enforcement officer.
"This isn't personal," Garr told reporters yesterday. "We always remained optimistic."
Leonard Levitt, a Stamford resident who has reported on the case for 18 years for Greenwich Time and The (Stamford) Advocate and, most recently, Newsday, called Garr "the first guy who knew what he was doing" in the Moxley case.
"What I do know is nobody's worked harder on this case than Frank Garr, and he did it in the face of opposition from his own colleagues," Levitt said. "He really is the key player."
Levitt cautioned that the case is far from closed, given its history.
"I want to know what these witnesses told the grand jury because the investigators have had so many problems with this case in the past," he said.
In a brief interview after Benedict's morning statement, Garr indicated the first battle over Skakel's guilt or innocence will take place in Juvenile Court, where it will be decided whether he can be tried as an adult.
"More than likely, that's what will have to happen," Garr said of the process.
Sherman last night said he did not know whether he will fight an attempt to change Skakel's status from youth to adult offender. If he does, it would mean the start of a trial could be delayed considerably.
After a brief address, Benedict left the Bridgeport conference room yesterday morning without answering reporters' shouted questions.
"Until those rights are either waived or the court tells us otherwise, my office is beholden to the (juvenile) laws," Benedict said. But he pointed out in a written statement distributed to the media that the laws of the time said if someone was 14 or older they could be tried as an adult pending a hearing in Juvenile Court.
Martin County, Fla., sheriffs arrived yesterday morning at Skakel's home in Hobe Sound, where he lives with his wife and infant son, but Skakel was already on his way north. Sherman said he had called his client Tuesday night, after learning about the arrest warrant from reporters.
"I told him to come up here and surrender, and he took immediate steps to do that," Sherman said.
Skakel, according to sources, flew north by private jet yesterday. He landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he was met by Sherman, and driven to the town where he grew up.
The defendant did not answer questions or make eye contact with reporters yesterday afternoon as he was led from Sherman's car into the Greenwich police headquarters to be formally charged with murder. Skakel was on his way back to Florida last night, Sherman said.
But the attorney earlier in the day stated several times that Skakel is innocent and will not entertain any offers for a plea bargain.
"There will be a trial; he will plead not guilty," Sherman said. "And after the trial he will be acquitted."
Law enforcement officials would not discuss evidence in the case yesterday, but it became clear from statements by officials over the last few years that the focus of the investigation was switching from Thomas Skakel to Michael Skakel.
The only suspect publicly identified besides the Skakel brothers was a former Brunswick School teacher named Kenneth Littleton, who was hired as a live-in tutor by the Skakel family on the day of the murder. Littleton, however, was exonerated granted immunity in exchange for his testimony before the grand jury.
Over the 18 months that Judge George Thim served as a one-man grand jury, he interviewed well over 50 witnesses, including Littleton, Dorthy Moxley and Rushton Skakel Sr., the Skakels father.
Thomas Skakel's lawyer, Emanuel Margolis, said yesterday he does not expect the older brother to be charged.
"I have no reason to believe that at all," Margolis said at the press conference. "Judge Thim found probable cause that the crime of murder was committed, and there appears to be an arrest warrant outstanding for Michael Skakel."
Many characteristics of the case have helped turn it into a major media event: the wealthy town, the ages of the victim and suspects, the brutality of the attack, early whispers of cover-up and preferential treatment and, of course, the connection to the Kennedy family.
The brothers' father, Rushton Skakel Sr., is the brother of Ethel Kennedy and heir to the Great Lakes Carbon Corp. fortune. Lawyers yesterday said despite the family relationship, the arrest and trial should not receive undue attention.
"This is not the Kennedy trial; it is not the O.J. trial," Sherman said. "It is the trial of a young man accused of killing a neighbor. It should not be treated as a celebrity trial."
But the bank of cameras before him made clear there is little chance those words would be heeded. One reporter protested the defendant's familial connection is hard to avoid.
"It's hard for you to avoid," said Margolis. "Let's put it that way."
A trial in this case promises to feed the cottage industry of talking legal heads that was spawned by the O.J. trial and cable television.
"Where was your client at the time of the murder?" one reporter shouted to Sherman yesterday.
"And the trial begins," whispered another.
Sherman declined to answer the question, but described his client as "appropriately anxious."
Nevertheless, he said Skakel would cooperate fully with legal authorities.
"There will be no Mickey Mousing, he's not going to Sweden," Sherman said, in an obvious aside to Darien rapist Alex Kelly, who eluded prosecution for years.
"There will be no plea bargains here," Sherman said. "This is a black or white issue. He either did it or he didn't do it."
The lawyer would not discuss potential evidence, including testimony Thim may have heard that Michael Skakel confessed to the murder while at Elan School, a Maine substance abuse rehabilitation center, from 1978 to 1980.
A judge ruled last November that the grand jury could not consider testimony of Elan employees, but could hear statements by Skakel's fellow patients.
Sherman said despite heavy media coverage of the case, he will not try to have the trial moved out of Fairfield County.
"I believe in the jury system," he said. "I believe we can find people who will listen to the evidence."
The attorney allowed that Thim might think there is enough evidence to arrest Skakel, but he maintained there is not enough to convict him. Sherman made reference to the difficulty prosecutors could have winning a conviction for a murder nearly a quarter-century after the fact.
"The fact that you have people, 25 years later, calling 'Unsolved Mysteries' and saying, 'You know, I remember something.' I'm not sure that's going to satisfy a jury," Sherman said.
But Dorthy Moxley, who has campaigned tirelessly for an arrest in the case, said she and Martha's brother, John, will do everything they can to see it through to a conviction.
"We won't give up," she said.