Prosecution, defense get ready for high-profile Skakel case.
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time
Some 37 years ago, Michael Sherman and Frank Garr sat in the same classrooms before the same teachers at Greenwich High School. They resided in two Greenwich homes just yards apart -- Sherman's on Halock Avenue and Garr's on Pemberwick Road.
And while they may not have floated in the same social circles at the time -- they do not even remember each other all that well l-- they never could have predicted the ironic convergence of their lives, decades later, in their hometown.
Today, Sherman, 55, and Garr, 56, are on opposite sides of the most high-profile murder case to hit the area in decades: the savage killing of Martha Moxley in 1975.
Garr is the lead investigator for the prosecution, and Sherman is the attorney for Michael Skakel, the man soon to be on trial for Moxley's death.
Skakel is being charged with the murder of his then-15-year-old neighbor, who was found beaten to death with a golf club on her family's lawn in Belle Haven. The golf club was linked to Skakel's family.
With less than two months to go until jury selection begins April 2 in the now-famous, 27-year-old case, Garr and his colleagues on the prosecution's legal team are heavily involved in trial preparation, and Sherman is no less laden with work.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, the lead attorney for the prosecution, has teamed up with Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill. The triumvirate, who will sit together before Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. when the trial begins May 7, is meeting weekly to interview potential witnesses, to anticipate legal issues that may come up during the trial and to organize the most persuasive ways to present their case to the jury at state Superior Court in Stamford.
Their offices are crowded with material, roughly two dozen boxes and a lateral filing cabinet, filled with manila folders and accordion files and pieces of evidence for the case.
"My desk is just covered," Benedict said. "At this point I'm spending about 50 percent of my time on the trial and the other 50 percent in day-to-day needs as state's attorney. But as we get closer I'm going to get more and more involved."
Benedict said his typical day in the office is from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but the work always continues from home.
"I bring stuff home," Benedict said. "I'd need a truck to bring everything, but I've got a laptop so I can get work done. We're pretty organized so far. There isn't really a sense of being overwhelmed."
Morano estimates he spends about 40 percent of his day on the case, though he said the time will get more intense as the case moves into March.
"We started out meeting every other week but now we meet weekly to get to know these files as intimately as possible," he said. "This absolutely exists all day. It's been that way for three or four years now. I'm lucky I have a very supportive wife who I can discuss things with and she comes up with some very good arguments so I don't get tunnel vision."
The team has not yet figured out who will take which witnesses when the trial comes. Right now it's a matter of informally dividing up the tasks, including research, legal techniques and any memos that may need to be ready before trial, Gill said.
"Jonathan and Chris have more trial experience than I do and I have more of the writing and research background so that's how we've been working so far," she said. "Garr is tremendous because he has such a background. None of us know the history as he does."
But even for Gill, who is mostly an appellate lawyer and has handled two appeals in the Skakel case thus far, late-night hours are often consumed with thoughts of the trial.
"At night I cook supper, I help with the homework, I read to the kids, I put them to bed and then I do work on this case," she said. "This is always running through my head. I try as much as possible to anticipate every legal technique and to prepare for it in advance."
It may be a different case for Garr, who quit his job in the Greenwich Police Department to investigate this case on a full-time basis.
"I guess you might call this my career case," Garr said. "Eighty percent of my day is consumed by this. I've been in law enforcement now for 35 years and I've always made it a rule not to get personally involved in any investigation. But this is different. It's been so long and there is a relationship with the Moxleys. There is a personal side to this."
The team members admit they rely on Garr to some extent.
"My office looks like a bomb but I know where everything is," Garr said. "Jon relies on me to know because he's constantly popping in and asking where things are and I have to supply it. But this is not, and never has been, a 9 to 5 job. It's always there. I'm always thinking about it."
Still, the four members of the prosecution team insist they remain level-headed.
"We're excited to get started," Benedict said. "There is certainly more pressure with this case, but it's not from the age of the case. It's from the national media exposure. We get constant coverage. You can't avoid it."
Benedict joked he needs to carve out extra time to "watch Mr. Sherman on television or read his many newspaper interviews."
As for Sherman, who has been much more of a public presence than his counterparts, the pressure has been of a slightly different sort.
"I can't take two steps without dealing with this case," he said. "Whether it's the people sitting across from me at a restaurant looking at me with that odd face trying to figure out if they went to high school with me or if I'm a sportscaster on WPIX. When they finally realize I'm the Skakel lawyer, they always come over and ask, 'Did he do it?' "
Sherman has represented Skakel for two-and-a-half years.
"So it's not like I'm cramming at this point. It's not as all-consuming for me as people think. I've always been preparing this case for trial from the moment I was hired," Sherman said. "I have been doing a lot of traveling to speak with witnesses. They are scattered all over, ranging from Key West to California to Maine to Vegas to North Carolina to New York."
He also spends his time poring over transcripts, boxes of discovery material and strategizing.
"I spend a lot of time talking to my client, pretty much every day."
And when the case is over?
"Call it postpartum depression," said Sherman, who estimates he has handled 12 to 15 murder cases. "But we've all had big cases before."