Newspapers seek access to Skakel arraignment
By Kerry Tesoriero - Greenwich Time
Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate and three other newspapers filed a motion yesterday in Juvenile Court in Stamford seeking access to the arraignment of Michael Skakel.
Skakel, 39, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on a murder charge in the 1975 slaying of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, his former neighbor, in the gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven.
The case is being handled - at least initially - in Juvenile Court because Skakel was 15 at the time. The newspapers argue in the motion that concerns that typically justify sealing a juvenile courtroom don't apply in Skakel's case.
Greenwich Time and The Advocate filed the motion in conjunction with The New York Times and fellow Times Mirror Co. newspapers The Hartford Courant and Newsday.
"There is discretion left up to the judge with regard to whether or not certain proceedings should be open to include the public," said Stephanie Abrutyn, a Times Mirror attorney. "We are of the opinion that the law is on our side and it ought to happen, but no sensible lawyer would try to predict a decision."
Normally, juvenile proceedings are held in closed courtrooms to protect children from negative publicity that might affect their rehabilitation.
But Skakel is an adult, and his name and the charges against him are known throughout the state and the nation, the motion notes.
"Indeed, Mr. Skakel's legal team has already sought and received significant media coverage, publicly naming him as the person charged in the murder of Martha Moxley, and invited the public scrutiny of these proceedings," the motion states.
Joseph Pisani, editor of Greenwich Time and The Advocate, said yesterday: "The Advocate and Greenwich Time believe the identity of children accused of crimes should be protected. However, we see no justification for keeping the proceedings closed in the case of a 39-year-old man charged with murder whose identity has been made known, including by his own attorney."
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, was in Florida yesterday evening and not immediately available for comment.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict could not be reached for comment yesterday evening.
Any judge's decision to keep the Skakel arraignment closed would be unconstitutional, the motion claims.
"The press plays an invaluable role in educating the public about proceedings in our criminal and juvenile justice systems, in dispelling confusion and distrust of government (a distrust that is only multiplied when the government proceeds in secret), and in the proper functioning of our court systems," the motion states.
Many courts have allowed the media to attend juvenile court proceedings that involved minors.
"Where, as here, the case does not involve a child and there is great public interest in, and public knowledge of, the matter, there can be no legitimate reason for excluding the press," the motion states.
For years, a Greenwich police investigation of Martha's slaying focused primarily on Skakel's older brother, Thomas, and Kenneth Littleton, a tutor who had moved into the Skakel home the night of the murder.
Martha was found beaten and stabbed to death on the grounds of her family's home. The murder weapon was a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakels' late mother, Ann.
Both brothers, who are nephews of Robert Kennedy, were early suspects, but a police investigation of the slaying led nowhere.
In 1991, after details of the probe were published in Greenwich Time and The Advocate, the case was reopened.
Using information from police reports and other sources, former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman published his account of what he believed happened to Martha. Though Thomas Skakel had been the focus of much media coverage of the investigation, Fuhrman pointed an accusing finger at Michael.
An 18-month grand jury investigation of the crime resulted in Michael Skakel's arrest Jan. 19.
Friends last saw Martha at about 9:30 p.m., fooling around with Thomas Skakel outside his family's mansion.
Sherman said Michael Skakel will not plead to any charges because he is innocent.
Whether the trial will be held in Juvenile Court or state Superior Court, in private or in public, remains to be determined.