Skakel is charged in adult court; hearing set for April 18
Contains 3 Articles
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
With a court proceeding yesterday that lasted slightly more than 10 minutes, Michael Skakel now stands accused as an adult in the 1975 beating death of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.
After state Superior Court in Stamford Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. advised him of his rights, Skakel listened as a court clerk informed him the state alleges he, "with intent to cause the death of one Martha Moxley, did in fact cause the death of Martha Moxley."
Skakel did not enter a plea during his arraignment; he is not required to do so until after a probable cause hearing is held so a judge can decide whether there is sufficient evidence for the case against him to proceed to trial. Kavanewsky scheduled the hearing for April 18.
Skakel has not spoken to reporters since his January 2000 arrest. But after yesterday's hearing, defense attorney Michael Sherman of Stamford reiterated his belief in his client's innocence.
"Michael Skakel didn't do it," Sherman told reporters outside the Hoyt Street courthouse.
Skakel's only response during the 12-minute hearing came after Kavanewsky asked him whether he had any questions concerning his rights as a defendant.
"No, I understand them fully," Skakel replied.
The probable cause hearing will be similar to a three-day reasonable cause hearing held in June, when Skakel was a defendant in juvenile court. His case initially was referred to the Juvenile Matters division because he was 15 at the time Moxley was killed. After hearing witness testimony that Skakel had confessed to having slain Moxley with a golf club Oct. 31, 1975, Judge Maureen Dennis of the state Superior Court's Juvenile Matters division found reasonable cause to order Skakel's case transferred to adult court.
An appeal of the transfer order is pending with the state Appellate Court.
Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother, said she did not attend yesterday's arraignment because of a death in the family.
"Let's hope the appeal doesn't stall things so we can get on with the probable cause hearing," she said from her home in New Jersey.
Though several of Skakel's six siblings had attended the juvenile court proceedings, his brother, Stephen Skakel, was the only sibling at the arraignment.
Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Couloute Jr. yesterday said "the state will file a motion to dismiss the appeal within the next two weeks."
Skakel yesterday had the option of waiving his right to a probable cause hearing, but Sherman said he wanted the hearing so he might have a second chance to cross-examine state witnesses.
One of those witnesses Sherman mentioned is Gregory Coleman, who has alleged that when he was a resident of the Elan School substance abuse rehabilitation facility in Maine - where Skakel was a resident for alcohol abuse from 1978 to 1980 - Skakel confided to him that he had killed Moxley.
At the reasonable cause hearing, Coleman testified Skakel had told him that after Moxley had spurned his sexual advances, he "drove her skull in" with a golf club. He said Skakel then bragged to him, "I'm going to get away with murder - I'm a Kennedy."
Skakel's aunt, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, is the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Yesterday, Sherman said he had seen an interview Coleman gave to a television station in Rochester, N.Y., in which the witness made statements that might be used to discredit his prior testimony.
Sherman declined to say what those statements were, saying, "I'd like to see the out-takes of that tape."
Sherman noted that since Dennis would not be presiding over the probable cause hearing, the new judge might find there is not enough evidence to warrant a trial.
When scheduling the probable cause hearing, Kavanewsky said the matter would be heard "at a location to be determined."
The uncertainty has resulted from the state's motion for a change of venue, from Stamford to Bridgeport. Prosecutors have argued that Bridgeport was the appropriate site because when the crime occurred in 1975, Bridgeport was where all major felonies in Fairfield County were prosecuted. The Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District was created six years later.
When Dennis ordered Skakel's case transferred to adult court, she specified state Superior Court in Stamford as the site of the trial because, "This district is the most appropriate venue at this time in that the murder of Martha Moxley was committed in the town of Greenwich, which falls within the jurisdiction of Stamford-Norwalk."
Sherman has said he believes the case will remain in Stamford because of Dennis' designation.
Kavanewsky scheduled arguments on the venue question for 10 a.m. Wednesday.
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For media, not just another day in court
By Eve Sullivan
As defendant Michael Skakel approached state Superior Court in Stamford yesterday morning, dozens of photographers and cameramen snapped to attention.
They had only seconds to get a shot of Skakel entering the Hoyt Street courthouse, where he was arraigned in the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.
Joe Capolarello, a CNN cameraman, said he got a good shot of Skakel and his attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, from his position behind a row of barricades.
"In the past, the media had free realm of the outside grounds," Capolarello said. "I remember being able to photograph the family from the top of the stairs. These barricades are all new."
Capolarello said the barricades provide more organization and allow everyone to get a clean shot without colliding.
"It's good they have them," he said.
After Skakel entered, photographers started asking one another whether the Moxley family would attend the arraignment. John Moxley, Martha's brother, said they did not attend because of a death in the family.
About 45 news organizations, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Daily News, Entertainment Tonight, Extra Entertainment Magazine and Court TV, reserved seating in the courtroom. Cameras were not allowed inside.
John Rosenfeld of WCVB in Boston said he set up his tripod at 7 a.m., when media members were allowed in the parking lot. He stood waiting for Skakel to leave the courthouse.
"I'm waiting for a five-second shot," he said.
Jim Goff of WFXT in Boston set up his tripod, then went to get something to eat. He said no one dared to move it.
"It's like setting up a flag," he said.
Goff said he arrived in Stamford on Tuesday night and stayed at the Holiday Inn, where he did a preview piece at 10 p.m. using the city as a backdrop. He planned to stay in Stamford until 10 p.m. yesterday for a live shot at the courthouse.
Stamford resident Shelly Holzer went out to get a newspaper and decided to join the reporters and photographers.
"I saw the crowd and realized what it was and thought I'd get a look at Skakel, but I was about five minutes too late," he said. "I've never seen so many cameras in my life."
Skakel left the court at about 10:30 a.m., after a judge scheduled a probable cause hearing for April 18. He climbed into the back of a white Ford Expedition parked out front and drove away.
The arraignment, though only minutes long, was the biggest media event in the nation yesterday, according to Logan Byrnes, anchor for WVIT in West Hartford.
Byrnes said the case is drawing attention because of Skakel's connection to the Kennedys, his family's money, the heinous crime and the affluent community where it was committed.
"I think probably the Kennedy nephew is 80 percent of it," he said.
Ted Lorson of Metro Networks, a radio news service, arrived at 7:30 a.m. and found a mob scene.
"Parking was an issue," he said. "We found a spot a few blocks away on the street."
Police gave television crews a designated area on the south side of Hoyt Street to park their satellite trucks. Others had to pay to park behind Brooks Pharmacy.
Lt. Thomas Wuennemann said police had to put some control on Skakel's court appearance to avoid problems. He said illegally parked satellite trucks would be towed.
Victor Corley, supervisor of courthouse security, said extra security was hired and state police troopers were stationed in the front and rear of the courthouse.
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Business as usual at arraignment
By Kerry Tesoriero
Michael Skakel's name on the court docket yesterday assured another scene of clustered cameramen and carefully coifed anchors clamoring for quotes in front of the Stamford courthouse.
But inside Courtroom B at the state Superior Court building, the 12-minute proceeding in which Skakel was arraigned on charges he murdered his 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley, in 1975 was exceptionally ordinary.
Skakel, dressed in a familiar, slightly tugging dark gray suit, said little, except to tell Judge John Kavanewsky he understood his rights.
The most exciting issue that might have been argued - where the trial should take place - was set aside.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict has filed a motion requesting a change of venue, arguing the trial would have been held in Bridgeport in 1975 and therefore should occur there. Yesterday, prosecutors asked Kavanewsky to delay a hearing on that motion because they said they had received a rebuttal argument memorandum filed by Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. They wanted a week to develop responses to Sherman's pitch to keep the trial in Stamford.
Kavanewsky scheduled a hearing on the matter for 10 a.m. Wednesday.
At a previous hearing to determine whether Skakel should be tried as an adult, the 40-year-old defendant took advantage of the presence of the frenzied media and Moxley's mother, Dorthy Moxley, to steal the stage.
Turning to Moxley as he left the courtroom, he told her, "You've got the wrong guy," a comment that grabbed headlines.
The grieving mother didn't give Skakel the chance to address her yesterday. She and her son, John Moxley, who have attended each of Skakel's previous court appearances, were not at yesterday's hearing.
Also absent were the celebrities who have created an aura of glamour at these events.
Author Dominick Dunne was not in the gallery. Also missing was Mark Fuhrman, whose book, "Murder in Greenwich," pointed a finger at Skakel rather than his brother, Thomas, as the main suspect. Though Fuhrman's reputation was tainted by his racist comments during O.J. Simpson's murder trial, the former Los Angeles police detective has enjoyed gentler and sometimes doting media attention regarding Moxley's murder.
Even Benedict didn't show up. He was prosecuting another high-profile murder case - that of Adrian Peeler, the Bridgeport man accused of killing a witness against him and her young son.
Assistant State's Attorneys John Smriga and Matthew Couloute filled in for the lead prosecutor yesterday.
While much has been made of the lack of media access to this national news event, few members of the public took advantage of seats reserved for them yesterday - about 10 remained empty.