Judge will consider request to open court
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

STAMFORD - The long wait for someone to be brought into court to answer for the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley got a little longer yesterday when a Superior Court judge postponed suspect Michael Skakel's arraignment until she could decide whether it should be opened to the public.

Juvenile Matters Judge Maureen Dennis said she would issue a written decision on a motion by a group of newspapers to open the normally closed juvenile court proceeding prior to Skakel's new arraignment date of March 14.

The arraignment, which had been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. yesterday, was to have taken place in the court's Juvenile Matters division courtroom in Stamford because Skakel was 15 when Moxley was slain. The prosecutor in the case, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, has indicated he hopes to have Skakel's case quickly transferred to adult court once the arraignment takes place.

Dennis' decision to postpone came following a hearing on the newspapers' motion. Dennis is also to preside over the arraignment. The newspapers - Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate, Hartford Courant, Newsday and The New York Times - argue in their motion that there is no reason for the arraignment to take place behind closed doors because laws designed to protect children should not apply to a defendant who is now 39 years old.

"Closure of a courtroom should be sparingly granted," the newspapers' attorney, David Fein, told Dennis. "This case is not one of those rare cases where closure is justified."

Benedict and Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, attended the hearing, and neither argued in favor of keeping the arraignment closed. The prosecutor told Dennis that the state was not taking a position on the matter, and Sherman said that his client, after having lived under a cloud of suspicion for many years, is anxious for the public to see that he is innocent.

"It's better to have firsthand information than to be guessing about what goes on behind closed doors," Sherman said.

But after Dennis announced that she was postponing the arraignment until next month, Benedict and Sherman asked the judge to allow the arraignment to go forward as planned, in secret, and that she limit her written decision to the question of whether subsequent Skakel-related matters be held in open court.

"This case is 25 years old," Sherman said. "I think both sides would like at least to get the ball rolling."

Though disappointed, Benedict said he understood Dennis' decision to postpone the arraignment because her ruling on the newspapers' motion could set precedent for how future juvenile court cases are handled.

"The judge wants to do things by the book, and I respect that," Benedict said after the hearing.

During the hearing, Dennis said she found no Connecticut case law concerning opening Juvenile Matters proceedings to the public. She said before writing her decision she wanted to review relevant case law from other states.

The arraignment was postponed for more than a month because, in addition to having to conduct more research, Dennis said she was leaving for vacation next week and would not be back until March.

Despite a crush of media representatives outside the juvenile court, all of whom expected to be covering the arraignment of Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, only one reporter from each of the five newspapers that were party to the motion was allowed inside for the hearing.

Skakel never appeared, as he awaited the outcome of the hearing at his lawyer's office on nearby Fifth Street in Stamford.

Skakel's arrest on Jan. 19 for Moxley's murder resulted from an 18-month investigation by a one-judge grand jury in Bridgeport.

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.