Skakel jurors to get notices to serve
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time
Potential jurors for the murder trial of Michael Skakel will receive their summons in the mail in less than two weeks, court officials said.
Notices typically get mailed out two months in advance for jury appearances. Jurors in the high-profile Skakel case, for which jury selection is set to begin April 2, could come from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Weston, Westport or Wilton.
Local residents will have no idea when they receive their summons whether they could be selected for the Skakel trial, which lawyers for both sides said could last about six weeks. A summons is only a call to serve. Potential jurors are not assigned to a trial until after they show up at court.
"It's going to be done the same way for this case as it's done for every other case," said Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
Skakel, 41, is charged with the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley, who was bludgeoned to death with a golf club. Her body was found on her family's Belle Haven lawn on Oct. 31 of that year. Both she and Skakel were 15 at the time.
No one was charged in the murder for more than 24 years. Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was arrested in January 2000 after a one-man grand jury investigated the case.
The location of the Skakel trial has not yet been set, because it depends on whether the new Stamford courthouse will be open in time. But all jurors in the Stamford-Norwalk judicial district report to 123 Hoyt St. in Stamford first and, if necessary, are sent to Norwalk.
Jurors' names, which are selected at random, come from a master list made up of licensed motor vehicle operators from the Department of Motor Vehicles; voters from each town's Registrar of Voters; taxpayers from the Department of Revenue Services and individuals who received unemployment compensation through the Department of Labor.
The number of jurors summoned on a particular day varies with the caseload, but typically ranges from 20 to 80. Extra jurors will not be called for the Skakel trial.
"In each judicial district, the court will decide how many jurors it needs at the beginning of the year, based on past usage," said Stearley-Hebert. "They'll let the jury administrator know how many jurors to summon, based on a prediction that can get adjusted by need."
The jurors who are called to court April 2 will not automatically be appointed to sit on Skakel's trial. If jurors have any knowledge of the case or the parties, they are required to tell the judge and the lawyers during voir dire, the process of questioning jurors before the trial begins.
The voir dire process is intended to reveal any prejudices jurors might have about a case. The attorneys question jurors to determine whether they can be fair, or impartial. If defense or prosecution attorneys question whether a juror can render a fair verdict, they have the right to ask that a juror be excused from further service on the case.
Twelve people will serve in the jury, with a maximum of four alternates.
General statues prohibit jurors from talking about the trial with other jurors or with any other party during the trial.
Defense Attorney Michael Sherman said lawyers for both sides expect jury selection to be a time-consuming process.
"I'm hoping we'll do it within a month," Sherman said. "It'll be time-consuming because everyone around here knows about this case. The key issue is, do the potential jurors have strong opinions either way that are not capable of being changed?"
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who will prosecute the case, said he thinks the state's allotment of five weeks for jury selection is apt.
"It could take longer than that," Benedict said. "But I think we'll keep it to four or five weeks. Just because somebody has read about this case or knows about it doesn't automatically disqualify them."