Skakel to be tried as adult
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Michael Skakel will be tried by a jury rather than a juvenile court judge for allegedly murdering Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley when he was 15 years old, state Superior Court Judge Maureen Dennis ruled yesterday.
Skakel took the news stoically, said his defense attorney, Michael Sherman.
"I called him and we discussed it, but he is calm and is looking forward to being exonerated and acquitted by a jury of his peers," Sherman said.
The prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, said he had anticipated that Skakel's case would end up in adult court.
"We're pleased with Judge Dennis' decision, but it was expected, and I really cannot comment any further because I haven't seen the decision," Benedict said.
Dennis based her ruling solely on the issue that there are no state juvenile facilities to which the now-middle-aged Skakel can be committed. The purposes of such facilities are to rehabilitate, not punish, underage offenders.
Dennis also ruled that the case must be tried in Stamford, rather than in Bridgeport, the location of the state's attorney's office that has had jurisdiction over the case for 25 years.
"This district is the most appropriate venue at this time in that the murder of Martha Moxley was committed in the town of Greenwich, which falls within the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk," Dennis wrote.
Moxley was murdered the evening of Oct. 30, 1975, and her body was found the following day beneath a tree on her front lawn in the Belle Haven section of town.
Police said the murder weapon was a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street from the Moxleys.
For many years, the prime suspect had been Skakel's older brother, Thomas Skakel, then 17, who witnesses told police was the last person they saw with Moxley before she was killed.
It was not until 1998, after additional witnesses came forward saying Michael Skakel confessed to the slaying while in a Maine substance abuse rehabilitation facility, that a grand jury was convened to investigate the case. After a probe lasting 18 months, the grand jury issued a report that was used to obtain a warrant for Skakel's arrest in January 2000.
The case has drawn national attention because Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel, is the brother of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
After a probable cause hearing in June, Dennis ruled there was sufficient evidence for Skakel to stand trial. Another hearing was held in October in which Skakel argued that his case should be tried in juvenile court. If Skakel had prevailed, his trial would have been conducted under juvenile court rules. It would have been heard before a single judge and not a jury. In addition, in juvenile court, defendants are not found guilty, but deemed to be delinquent.
Under state law, a delinquent can be committed to a state youth facility, hospital or other institution. The state's facilities are barred from accepting anyone over the age of 18, and commitment to a mental institution would not be appropriate in this case because, Dennis noted in her 8-page decision, "the issue of mental illness was never raised" by Skakel's defense.
"From the evidence presented, this court finds that there is no available or suitable state institution designed for the care and treatment of children to which the Juvenile Court could commit the, now forty year old, respondent that would be suitable for his care and treatment, should he be adjudicated delinquent for the murder of Martha Moxley," Dennis wrote.
"The court further finds that the facilities of the adult criminal division of the Superior Court afford and provide a more effective setting for the disposition of this case, and the institutions to which the adult criminal division of the Superior Court may sentence a defendant are more suitable for the care and treatment of this respondent should he be found guilty of the murder of Martha Moxley."
According to Benedict, Skakel's formal presentment in adult court will occur fairly soon, but he did not know exactly when.
"We'll arrange a date for presentment in the near future, and it is my understanding that Mr. Skakel will be entitled to a probable cause hearing," the prosecutor said.
Sherman said he did not know whether Skakel would waive his right to the probable cause hearing, and that he was considering whether to appeal Dennis' decision to try Skakel as an adult.
If Skakel waives his right to a probable cause hearing, or such a hearing determines the case should proceed to trial, Skakel would have to be arraigned as an adult, Benedict said.