Skakel case draws interest from law journals to Hollywood
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
"When you turn on 'Entertainment Tonight,' you expect to see stuff about stars. I didn't know Skakel was a star. My God, how did this man become a star?"
National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children
History books may not remember it as the trial of the century, but the case of Connecticut vs. Michael Skakel is shaping up to be a spectacle.
For today's arraignment in state Superior Court in Stamford, nearly 50 media representatives were guaranteed seats for a proceeding that is likely to be over in a few minutes. Of that number, half are from out-of-state television stations or programs. All the major networks - ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN - will be there.
Even during preliminary court matters, television satellite trucks were parked bumper to bumper in front of the Hoyt Street courthouse.
Skakel's case has become more than a story about 15-year-old Martha Moxley being brutally slain outside her Greenwich home 25 years ago.
Most telling of all is the seat reserved for "Entertainment Tonight," the syndicated program with the latest on Hollywood divorces and other celebrity gossip.
"It's the very nature of this beast, that you have a murder trial being covered equally by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and 'Entertainment Tonight,' " said Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman. "It's that Kennedy connection which ratchets it up into the entertainment and gossip columns."
Michael Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Kennedy and the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
"There's as much about this case in the gossip columns of Liz Smith, Cindy Adams and Mitch Fink as there is in the Connecticut Law Journal," Sherman said. "If it weren't for the fact a young girl tragically lost her life, it would be comical."
Among recent gossip column scoops: Skakel's wife, Margot Skakel, has filed for divorce, and a man claiming to be a childhood friend of Skakel's has written a screenplay about the Moxley murder, claiming inside information.
The prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, is no stranger to high-profile cases and trying one now - the case of a man accused of killing a homicide witness and his mother. The fatal shootings of 8-year-old Leroy "B.J." Brown Jr. and his mother, Karen Clarke, have been in Connecticut headlines since the Jan. 8, 1999, slayings in Bridgeport.
But Benedict said he has not seen anything like the media crush that reports on Skakel.
"I've said from Day 1 that the so-called Kennedy connection is extremely tenuous here, and it's unfortunate in that it's a distraction from a simple effort to see that justice is done," Benedict said.
Skakel is close enough to the famed Kennedy family to have had the status of celebrity bestowed upon him, said Rick Joyce, "Entertainment Tonight's" coordinating news producer in Hollywood. And "ET's" viewing public, Joyce said, seems to have an insatiable thirst for anything Kennedy.
Nancy Ruhe-Munch, executive director of Cincinnati-based National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, said there is a danger that Moxley will be forgotten amid the media hype.
"It's really sad that we put the emphasis on the murderer and the accused, and we lose sight of the victim," Ruhe-Munch said. "When you turn on 'Entertainment Tonight,' you expect to see stuff about stars. I didn't know Skakel was a star. My God, how did this man become a star?" Joyce, the "ET" producer, said his program not only reports celebrity news but also disseminates information about the media and what it's reporting about.
"The biggest thing we do in these trials that become media spectacles is cover the media coverage and how it's playing out on the networks, like if the 'Today' show has an exclusive interview with someone involved with the case," Joyce said. "Anything that comes out of that square box in the living room is of interest to us."
Robert Steele, director of the journalism ethics program at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the intense media interest in Skakel's case is understandable because the defendant is related to the Kennedys and is accused - 25 years later - of a crime that occurred in an affluent community when he was 15 years old.
"Given those elements, journalists should do nothing more to make it more sensationalistic," Steele said. "Yes, it deserves coverage, but that coverage should be measured and proportional. The tone of coverage, the tone of photos, should be thoughtful and professional, decisions that are driven by legitimate news value and not by celebrity."
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Area braces for Skakel arraignment
By Eve Sullivan
Things were calm around the Stamford courthouse yesterday, as businesses and court officials prepared for the media onslaught surrounding today's arraignment of Michael Skakel.
Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy and the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, will be arraigned in the 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager, Martha Moxley. The case has drawn national attention, attracting hoards of print and television journalists.
Those who live or work near the Hoyt Street courthouse can count on increased traffic and a slew of satellite trucks.
"We're getting extra change and making sure we have enough manpower," said Anna Ruggiero, owner of Angelina's Deli on Bedford Street. "This is our first high-profile case."
Ruggiero said the deli's former owners had to close the last time Skakel had a court appearance. She said they will make extra sandwiches in the morning to prepare for the rush.
"We're hoping we can accommodate everyone," she said.
John Foley, who works nearby, said the crowds won't affect him but the fact that he knows Martha's brother will.
"It brings a personal element," Foley said as he sat in Angelina's.
Foley said John Moxley was his fraternity brother 20 years ago at Ohio Wesleyan. During the year they lived together in the Beta Theta Pi house, Moxley did not mention the murder.
"I didn't know about it until after the fact," said Foley, who now lives in Wilton. "He didn't talk about it. It was obviously something very painful for him, knowing his sister's killer got off scot-free."
Foley hasn't seen Moxley in five years but would like to know how he's doing. "John was one of the most friendly guys," he said. "He had a smile that lit up a room."
Although others may not know the Moxleys, they are familiar with the case and the attention it draws.
Ken Pasquale, assistant manager of Brooks Pharmacy on Hoyt Street, said the store will have an extra person on duty. "Last time, we were very busy," he said.
A woman working inside Little Luke's III, a hot dog truck that usually sits in front of the courthouse, had little to say about the expected frenzy and the TV satellite trucks that will be jockeying for a space in the designated parking area out front.
"All we know is we're parking here," she said. "That's it."