Judge postpones decision on opening Skakel hearing

STAMFORD, Conn., Feb. 8 -- A juvenile court judge on Tuesday postponed the arraignment of a Kennedy nephew charged in a 1975 murder so she can decide whether to open the proceedings to the public. Normally, Judge Maureen Dennis hears closed-door juvenile cases in a small courtroom in a strip mall. But the case before her now is far from normal.

MICHAEL SKAKELíS arraignment on murder charges was put off until March 14, a move that annoyed his attorney, Michael Sherman. "We resent the delays," Sherman said. "Itís been 25 years. Weíre ready to get this case going." In fact, Sherman said, Skakel, now 39, has no objection to opening the hearing to the public because he "wants as many people as possible to see how bad this evidence is." Skakel, whose father is the brother of Sen. Robert Kennedyís widow, was charged with murder last month in the beating death of Martha Moxley. The 15-year-old had been bludgeoned with a 6-iron that was later matched to a set owned by the Skakel family. Because Skakel was a juvenile at the time of the killing, his case must be handled in juvenile court ó at least initially.

Five newspapers have asked the judge to open the arraignment to the public, a move prosecutors and defense lawyers say they cannot remember happening before in Connecticut. If the judge denies the request, lawyers for the newspapers planned to ask that the arraignment be delayed so they could file an immediate appeal. The stateís attorney for Bridgeport, Jonathan Benedict, said he hoped to have the case moved to adult court as soon as possible, but that he understood the judgeís desire to consider the media request. "Itís a decision that could have a lot of impact on future juvenile proceedings in Connecticut," Benedict said. Lawyers for the newspapers argue that Skakel has already effectively waived his juvenile confidentiality rights because he is an adult and because his name and the charges against him have become national headlines.

Skakelís lawyer went even further Monday, filing an affidavit signed by Skakel in which Skakel says he does not object to a public hearing. "Right now, whatís being printed is gross speculation, double hearsay and assorted garbage," said Sherman. "Once the public sees what the evidence is and what it is not, they will truly appreciate his innocence." The newspapers seeking the open hearing are The New York Times, The Hartford Courant, Newsday of Long Island, N.Y., The Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time.