Michael Skakel Will Be Tried as Adult:
Judge orders transfer of murder case to
Norwalk/Stamford, Conn., Superior Court.
By Kellie A. Wagner - The Conn. Law Tribune
When criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman
was told about Judge Maureen Dennis' decision
regarding the fate of his client Michael
Skakel, Sherman picked up the call using his
cellular phone -- while snowboarding in Aspen,
Colorado, where he was attending a criminal
On Jan. 31 Dennis ruled that Skakel would be
tried as an adult in the 1975 murder of his
Greenwich, Conn., neighbor, Martha Moxley.
Dennis ordered the case transferred to the
Norwalk/Stamford Superior Court, ending months
of speculation about whether the now
40-year-old defendant would be tried as a
juvenile as 1975 law suggests, or face a jury
trial as an adult.
After conducting some 20 interviews while
literally swishing down a mountain, Sherman
said he was only mildly disappointed about
Dennis' decision. "I'm not bummed," Skakel said
in an interview. "I'm not crestfallen by any
Many criminal defense attorneys, including
Sherman, expected that Dennis would transfer
the case from Juvenile Court to Superior Court,
in what has proven to be one of the most
legally challenging cases to ever be heard in
Connecticut. Dennis wrote in her decision that,
although the Juvenile Court had the authority
to commit a child, who was considered an
adjudicated delinquent, to an institution, her
decision must "narrowly focus on the
availability and suitability of state
institutions 'designed for the care and
treatment of children.' "
In her ruling, Dennis wrote that no juvenile
facilities could house Skakel if tried as a
juvenile. She added that because the state's
Department of Children and Youth Services,
which is normally responsible for committing
delinquents, prohibited the placement of anyone
over the age of 18, she was transferring the
case to Superior Court.
"This 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,"
Dennis wrote. "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."
On Oct. 30, 1975, Moxley was found in a pile of
blood underneath a pine tree near her home; she
had been stabbed repeatedly with a piece of a
broken golf club, her pants pulled down to her
ankles. Investigators had determined that
pieces of the club belonged to the Skakel
family, although the club's shaft still remains
No trial date has yet been set for the murder
Sherman said he would promptly file a new
motion to dismiss the case, based on the
statute of limitations in effect in 1975, which
prohibits a crime, even murder, from being
prosecuted after five years.
Sherman and his colleagues defending the case
had previously filed a motion to dismiss on the
statute of limitations issue, but Dennis called
the move "premature" and took no action on it.
She did, however, decide to keep the case in
Stamford, although there were no facilities in
the city to hear criminal matters in 1975,
instead of transferring the case out of the
Sherman said that decision by Dennis was a
"nice bonus" for his defense, because it would
allow Skakel to be tried by a jury of his
"I wasn't looking forward to it," Sherman said
about the possibility of a court battle if
Dennis had transferred the trial to Bridgeport.
"I was not expecting [Dennis] to rule on that."
Fairfield State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict,
who is expected to remain on the case, had
requested the case be transferred to Superior
Court in Bridgeport.
Fairfield State's Attorney Investigator Frank
Garr, who has worked on the Moxley case since
1975, said he was very pleased with Dennis'
We anticipated we would receive this ruling,"
Garr said. "We believe it is the right and
Dennis' decision to try Skakel as an adult
brought mixed reactions from other defense
counsel in the state.
Criminal defense attorney Avery Chapman of New
Haven said the ruling may have felt "right to a
lot of people" but questioned the
constitutionality of the decision and the
applicability of laws existing in 1975.
"It raises constitutional issues that [Skakel]
was entitled to avail himself of the laws that
existed when this crime was committed," Chapman
said. Stamford criminal defense solo Robert
Skovgaard said Dennis' decision was the only
appropriate choice to make in light of some
extraordinary circumstances. He added that the
ruling was not only a victory for the state,
but for the defense as well.
"It is the kind of case, as defense counsel,
you'd rather try to a jury than a judge,"
Administrative Judge Edward R. Karazin Jr., of
the Norwalk/Stamford judicial district, has
assigned Skakel's case to the presiding
criminal judge, John F. Kavanewsky Jr.
Karazin also credited Dennis with handling such
a difficult case with professionalism.
"Judge Dennis is a terrific judge," Karazin
said. "She worked hard on this thing."