Prosecutor: Skakel appeal should fail
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Prosecutors are confident Michael Skakel will be tried for the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley despite Skakel's appeal of his case being transferred to adult court.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said yesterday that the appeal will fail because the right of juvenile court defendants to appeal such transfers was repealed a decade ago.
"There was no right to an appeal at the time that this crime was committed, and there was such a right during a very brief window of about four or five years in the late 1980s, but it was repealed in 1991," Benedict said.
According to the public law that took effect July 1, 1991, a judge's decision to transfer a case from juvenile to adult court is "not a final appealable judgment," meaning that a final disposition of the case, such as a jury verdict or dismissal, must be reached in adult court before the transfer order can be appealed.
However, Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman, was optimistic yesterday of prevailing in the appeal he filed on Skakel's behalf last week with the Appellate Court, but he declined to discuss Benedict's interpretation of the law.
"That remains to be seen," Sherman said. "That remains to be seen."
Originally charged as a juvenile for the crime that occurred when he was 15, Skakel is scheduled to be arraigned as an adult tomorrow in state Superior Court in Stamford. He is accused of using a golf club to fatally beat and then stab the 15-year-old Moxley on the evening of Oct. 30, 1975.
During a preliminary hearing in juvenile court last June, two witnesses testified that Skakel confessed to them that he killed Moxley. Before transferring Skakel's case to adult court, Judge Maureen Dennis referred to that testimony, saying there was sufficient evidence for Skakel to stand trial.
In transferring the case to adult court, Dennis explained that Connecticut lacked "appropriate" facilities to accommodate the now 40-year-old defendant.
Sherman said the ruling was being appealed because it was not Skakel's fault it took the state 25 years to make an arrest, and therefore, Skakel should be treated as he would have been if arrested in 1975. According to 1975 law, however, juveniles as young as 14 could be tried as adults for murder.
Skakel's case was assigned to Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsy Jr., who last week ordered the prosecution and defense to file paperwork noting legal reasons for postponing tomorrow's arraignment in light of Skakel's appeal.
Although Sherman indicated his memorandum would not request a stay of the arraignment, Benedict said yesterday that the presiding judge could order a stay should he independently find a legal reason to do so.
"The ultimate say will be with Judge Kavanewsy," Benedict said.
At the arraignment, Skakel will be given the opportunity to invoke his right to a probable cause hearing, a preliminary procedure in which a judge finds whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.
Sherman said Skakel will ask for such a hearing, which would be similar to last summer's "reasonable cause" hearing in which the juvenile court judge ruled there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial.