Delay turns media frenzy into letdown
By Ryan Jockers - Greenwich Time
STAMFORD - Stamford police officers did not have to muscle Michael Skakel - the 39-year-old Hobe Sound, Fla., resident charged with murdering 15-year-old Martha Moxley in 1975 - through a swarm of photographers, cameramen and reporters positioned in front of the building in which he was to be arraigned yesterday.
Skakel never arrived. He didn't have to.
Skakel's arraignment, which attracted an army of national news organizations to the Juvenile Matters division of state Superior Court at 91 Prospect St., was postponed by Judge Maureen Dennis until March 14.
Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, is charged in the murder as a juvenile because he was 15 at the time of the slaying. Moxley was beaten to death and stabbed in the neck with a golf club on the grounds of her family's Belle Haven estate. Skakel, a neighbor at the time of the murder, has denied any wrongdoing.
Dennis' decision to postpone the arraignment - in order to ponder a motion made by five newspapers, including Greenwich Time and The (Stamford) Advocate, to make Skakel's pleading public - left the assembled crowd of media, quite literally, in the cold.
On a small section of pavement directly in front of the entrance to juvenile court, more than 100 reporters stood in 30-degree weather and waited for hours yesterday to catch Skakel, a married man with an infant son, as he walked past the assembled media circus and into juvenile court for his arraignment. Skakel was arrested Jan. 19 after an 18-month grand jury investigation.
On the day of his arrest, a similar media mob congregated outside Greenwich Police Department headquarters to watch Skakel, driven by his attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, surrender to the charge of murder, post $500,000 bond and drive away, en route to his home in Florida.
Yesterday, news trucks began securing parking spots along Prospect Street, near downtown, at about 9 a.m., according to businesses on the block. Five hours later, police had parted the sea of reporters by creating a barricade in front of the juvenile court building so that Skakel - or anyone involved in the high-profile murder case - could enter the building from the street unhindered.
The crowd in front of the building that houses juvenile court was made up almost entirely of members of the media; only a handful of bystanders, mostly students from the nearby Stamford High School and Yeshiva Bais Binyomin, a school for advanced Talmudic studies, were in the vicinity.
"It's certainly a mob scene," said Stamford resident Paul Doyle, 39, a construction worker who lives in an apartment near juvenile court. "It's amazing what people will do for a story."
And with a national news event unfolding with relatively little action (attorneys representing Skakel, the newspapers and the State's Attorney's office did not exit the building to announce the arraignment's postponement until 3:15 p.m.) any person related to the 24-year-old case was pounced upon.
One of these was Jack Nusan Porter, who at one point found himself backed up against a parked car, cameras in his face. Dozens of news cameras focused on Porter, the director of The Spencer Institute in West Newton, Mass., after he told someone in the crowd that he tutored Skakel for several months in late 1995 in preparation for a Massachusetts real estate exam that Skakel ultimately never took, he said. Porter, who was there as an observer, had on his person a piece of paper that Skakel had signed, which camera crews documented.
"He was my student; my heart goes out for him," Porter said, adding that he thought Skakel was a "charming, wonderful guy." When asked if he thought his former tutor had killed Moxley, he replied: "In America, you are innocent until proven guilty. Today, he is innocent."
Steve Carroll, a retired Greenwich police detective who was among the first on the scene of the crime scene - and who has been critical of the department's murder investigation - was also momentarily besieged by cameras, microphones and tape recorders. Carroll, who was also there as an observer, reiterated his statements that Greenwich police made mistakes early in their investigation of the murder and that the prosecution has a good case against Skakel.
Emanuel Margolis, a Stamford attorney who represents Thomas Skakel, Michael's older brother and a prime suspect in the murder for many years, managed to walk out from the juvenile court building, past the media and across Prospect Street before being spotted and surrounded as well. Margolis also said he was there as an observer.
Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native who wrote a nonfiction book on the Moxley murder, "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community," was also at the scene, pulled there, he said, by curiosity.
"After following this since 1994, I really can't help myself," Dumas said.
Dumas, one of three people to write books based on the Moxley case, said he was not surprised by the amount of media attention that an arrest in the case has attracted.
"And as the story unravels," Dumas said, "it will keep getting weirder and weirder."
During the course of the day, the overflow of media amused students on their walk home and forced police to direct and eventually reroute street traffic. According to some local workers, rerouting disrupted the flow of customers to the businesses that share the complex with the juvenile court.
A hairdresser at Village Haircutters, 85 Prospect St., who would only give her first name, Pauletta, said "at least 12 people" had canceled appointments at the shop because "they had heard about the traffic."
"It definitely interfered with business," she said.