Motion filed to move Skakel trial
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
A tug-of-war has begun over which community will host what could be one of the most sensational criminal trials ever in Connecticut.
On Thursday, according to court sources, a prosecutor filed a motion to have the case of Martha Moxley murder defendant Michael Skakel moved to Bridgeport from Superior Court in Stamford, which a judge only last week designated as the trial site.
In the sealed motion filed at the Stamford court house, sources said, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict makes the case that Skakel must be tried in Bridgeport because that is the location of the prosecutor's office that has had jurisdiction ever since the murder occurred in Greenwich in 1975. At the time, the Bridgeport office prosecuted all serious felonies in Fairfield County, as the Superior Court system with its geographical areas of jurisdiction was not created until 1981.
Although the motion was sealed, Benedict told Greenwich Time last April, "We appear to be applying both the procedural and substantive law of 1975, and if that's how we are to continue, then the trial would come within the venue of the time. That being the case, I would expect to try it in Bridgeport."
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, said he would oppose the motion during a hearing, which had yet to be scheduled as of yesterday.
Judge Maureen Dennis last month ordered Skakel to stand trial in adult rather than juvenile court for the crime he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old. In her written decision, Dennis designated Stamford Superior Court as the site of the trial.
Sherman said he believed he will prevail at the motion hearing simply by citing Dennis' ruling.
"The judge has already decided the issue, that the case will be heard in the area where the crime was committed," he said.
Skakel's attorney accused the prosecution of "picking and choosing" which aspects of 1975 law it wants applied to Skakel's case, referring to Benedict's push to try Skakel as an adult rather than as the juvenile he was at the time of the crime.
Sherman said he was not opposed to the change of venue because potential jurors from the less-affluent areas of Bridgeport might be less sympathetic to his client.
"I believe we'll get a fair trial by an impartial jury whether its in Stamford, Bridgeport or East Haddam," Sherman said.
Some legal experts, however, said the trial's location can significantly affect the composition of the jury that is ultimately selected.
"It's a smart move" by the prosecution "because it's likely a Bridgeport panel won't have any loyalty to a former Belle Haven resident or the Belle Haven lifestyle," Greenwich criminal defense attorney Philip Russell said. "A (Greenwich area) panel would be less likely to have a visceral reaction to the lifestyle and standard of living of the defendant and his family."
Skakel is a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and was raised in the affluent private Greenwich neighborhood of Belle Haven. He is alleged to have used a golf club to fatally bludgeon and stab the 15-year-old Moxley the evening of Oct. 30, 1975.
The case has attracted national media attention because of his relationship to the Kennedy family.
Wayne Keeney, a defense attorney who lives in Greenwich and practices in Stamford, agreed that juror demographics is an issue in the venue battle.
"If the case stays in Stamford it is to the advantage of the defense because there might be less class resentment in the more affluent jury pool of the Stamford-Norwalk area," Keeney said. "They might not necessarily be put off by the wealth of the defendant."
The victim's mother, Dorthy Moxley, now of New Jersey, said in a previous interview she didn't care where the trial is held or where jurors come from.
"Wherever and however they want to do it is fine with me, just so long as justice is finally done," she said.