Judge to weigh opening Skakel hearing today
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Whether or not 39-year-old Michael Skakel will publicly plead to the charge he murdered Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley 25 years ago may not be decided until minutes before he is arraigned today in Stamford.
Arguments on a motion to open up the normally closed juvenile court proceeding will be heard by Judge Maureen Dennis beginning at 2 p.m. today, 90 minutes before Dennis is to preside over Skakel's arraignment in the Juvenile Matters division of state Superior Court.
Skakel is being arraigned in juvenile court because he was 15 years old when he allegedly bludgeoned and stabbed Moxley the evening of Oct. 30, 1975.
The case has attracted the attention of the national press because Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Several newspapers, including the Times Mirror-owned Greenwich Time and The (Stamford) Advocate, filed a motion to open the arraignment to the public primarily on the bases that Skakel is now an adult, and that Skakel invited public scrutiny after his own lawyer identified him as the defendant named in a sealed arrest warrant.
Neither Skakel nor the prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, is expected to contest the motion.
Representing the newspapers today before Dennis will be Stamford attorney David Fein, a former assistant U.S. attorney.
"None of the considerations that form the basis for decisions to close juvenile proceedings are present in this case," Fein said yesterday. "The person who is charged is a 39-year-old adult who consents to having the case proceed in an open matter. Even when actual juveniles are being tried, and even when those actual juveniles object to press coverage, the courts have engaged in a case-by-case determination because the values supporting public access are so compelling."
According to Fein, the public interest is served when court proceedings are held in the open because members of the public become more educated about the judicial system.
Even though challenges to the newspapers' motion are not expected, and the judge could have issued a ruling without hearing arguments, Fein said that the hearing was requested on the newspapers' behalf to ensure nothing is left to chance.
"We want to be heard, and we want the chance to be able to address any of the court's concerns," Fein said. "And as representatives of the press, we bring different perspectives to the courtroom that might not otherwise be addressed."
Should Dennis deny the ruling, the newspapers' motion contains a request that Skakel's arraignment be delayed so the ruling can be appealed.
According to Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, Skakel will plead innocent to the murder charge.
Skakel's arrest on Jan. 19 resulted from an 18-month investigation by a one-judge grand jury in Bridgeport. The grand jury heard the testimony of 53 witnesses, some of whom had attended a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center where prosecutors allege Skakel made admissions concerning the Moxley murder.
Skakel, who now lives in Florida but in 1975 lived across the street from the victim, was one of several youths who were with Moxley the evening she was killed. The murder weapon has been identified by authorities as a 6-iron belonging to a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family.