Survey: Skakel trial should be open
By Cameron Martin - Greenwich Time
By a 2-1 margin, Connecticut voters who have heard or read about a possible trial of the man accused of the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley say the trial should be open to the public, according to a Quinnipiac College Poll released yesterday.
A small, random sampling of citizens strolling Greenwich Avenue yesterday affirmed the poll's findings.
According to the Quinnipiac College Poll, 89 percent of Connecticut voters say they have heard or read something about the arrest of accused murderer Michael Skakel. Now 39, Skakel is to be arraigned in juvenile court because he was 15 when he allegedly murdered his then-Greenwich neighbor on Oct. 30, 1975.
Skakel's arraignment was postponed from earlier this month until March 14 so Juvenile Matters Judge Maureen Dennis could decide on a motion filed by Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate and three other newspapers asking to be allowed into the normally closed juvenile court proceeding. The case has generated national media interest because Skakel is a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Of the polled group of 1,365 Connecticut voters, 60 percent say should the case go to trial, the court proceeding should be open to the public. Thirty-two percent say it should be closed, according to the poll.
"More than twice as many people think this trial in juvenile court should be open to the public than think it should be closed," William Dunlap, a professor in the Quinnipiac College School of Law, said yesterday.
"For the past 25 years, people have been complaining in two directions," he said. First, that the Skakel family got preferential treatment during the initial investigation, Dunlap said; and now, that Michael Skakel is being prosecuted a quarter of a century later because of the same name recognition which may have initially shielded him.
"With that sort of public impression," Dunlap said, "you need to demonstrate that he is in fact not getting preferential treatment, and the way to do that is to make the proceedings open. The reasons we normally cite for keeping a juvenile proceeding closed do not apply here."
Several people interviewed yesterday in Greenwich said they could draw a distinction between typical juvenile court proceedings and Skakel's unique case, and were in favor of a trial open to the public and reporters.
Stamford resident Antoinette Le Febvre, 26, a substitute teacher, said Skakel's age at the time of the murder should not prohibit the trial from being open.
"I think people have the right to know what's going on. I feel like the people waited so long, he's been a suspect so long, that just because he was 15 (at the time of murder), he should be tried both as an adult and it should be open.'
Student Jason Pachon, 19, of Greenwich, said he has known about the murder of Martha Moxley his whole life, as well as the suspicions swirling around members of the Skakel family.
"I've been hearing about this since I was kid," Pachon said. "Everyone has a right to know. "
Beverly Sanchez, 34, a clerk at Grannick's Pharmacy and Medical Supply Co., was pointed.
"What he did was wrong, if he really did it, and that's why it should be open," Sanchez said.
Carole Labbe, 55, a homemaker from Stamford, agreed.
"I think it should be opened, yeah, why not? People have a right to know."
Old Greenwich resident Dorothy Perna said open proceedings would help dispel the air of suspicion surrounding the murder and its subsequent investigation. Her late son, she said, was a classmate of Martha Moxley at Western Junior High School.
"That's why I've been following this very closely. Too much has been hidden for too many years, and it should all come out," she said.
Though now a resident of Newport, R.I., Alex Fisher, 38, was a longtime Greenwich resident who said he has personal connection to the Moxley case.
Fisher said he attended Brunswick School with Michael Skakel and played soccer with him there. Opening Skakel's trial to the public will not only help bring closure to the 25-year-old murder case, but will help quash the notion that anyone is above the law.
"I remember it well and it really bothered me, how things were physically stuffed under the rug, as if you could put a Band-Aid on it and it will all go away," said Fisher, recalling some local sentiment in the murder's aftermath. "I'm ecstatic for Mrs. Moxley and her son (John). It says to me, 'It doesn't matter what your last name is when other people are affected,' and it has affected a lot of people in a lot of ways.
"I think the public should be allowed in. There's a lot of emotion involved, for old families who have been here and new ones who moved in after (the 1975 murder)."