Skakel arraigned in Moxley murder
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
STAMFORD - An arraignment that waited 25 years was over in a few minutes yesterday, and then the defendant approached the mother of the girl he is alleged to have brutally murdered and told her, "You've got the wrong guy."
Michael Skakel, now 39, was arraigned in state Superior Court in Stamford as a juvenile in the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley in Belle Haven. Both Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time.
He was not asked to enter a plea during the four-minute proceeding. But he was informed of his rights as a criminal defendant by Juvenile Matters Judge Maureen Dennis, who then read the state's allegations against him.
"The petition in this case alleges that Michael Skakel is a delinquent based on the underlying charge of murder," the judge stated to Skakel, who remained seated with hands folded at the defense table throughout the arraignment.
Dorthy Moxley, the widowed mother of the murder victim, sat quietly in the front row of the courtroom's visitor's gallery, next to her son, John Moxley, and his wife, Cara.
Then when the arraignment was over, as he waited his turn to file out of the packed courtroom, Skakel walked up to the victim's mother and said, "Dorthy, I feel your pain, but you've got the wrong guy."
Moxley, who appeared stunned to have come face-to-face with her daughter's alleged killer, said nothing in reply. But as Skakel began walking toward the door, John Moxley retorted, "We'll find out in court."
Both Dorthy Moxley and her son said they believed Skakel's words had been for the benefit of members of the national media who were in attendance.
"I think for 24 years, they've thought they're above the law," John Moxley said of the Skakels. "We're going to find out now."
"I think it was just like a practiced statement," the murdered girl's mother said.
Skakel's lawyer Michael Sherman denied that, saying his client's comments were "from the heart."
"Michael Skakel has no idea who killed Martha Moxley. If he did, he'd be the first one to tell the state's attorney," Sherman said.
Skakel, now a resident of Florida and the nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel Kennedy, is alleged to have used a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by his family to bludgeon to death his Greenwich neighbor the evening of Oct. 30, 1975.
Mindful that the adult defendant was being arraigned as a juvenile, Dennis asked Skakel's lawyer whether his client's father was present. When Sherman replied that Rushton Skakel Sr. was not in court, the judge asked the attorney, "For these purposes you will serve as guardian?"
"Yes, your honor," Sherman replied.
Dennis then asked Skakel whether he had any questions concerning the proceeding, and the defendant replied, "Not at this time, your honor."
Dennis then scheduled a probable cause hearing - set for June 20 - a proceeding required in all cases in which penalties of death or life imprisonment can be imposed. The murder charge against Skakel is not a capital crime, so the most severe penalty he could face is life in prison, if convicted as an adult.
Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said it will take at least a year for the case to go to trial.
"We developed an awful lot of evidence in the grand jury, and I'm looking forward to trying it," Benedict said.
The only member of Skakel's immediate family to attend the arraignment was Steven Skakel, one of the defendant's five brothers. He did not exchange any words with the victim's family, nor would he speak with reporters.
Steven Skakel, now 31, was one of the 53 witnesses who testified before the grand jury that had been convened in 1998 to investigate the Moxley murder. The grand jury, after a term of 18 months, issued a report that concluded sufficient evidence existed to support an arrest. Michael Skakel was arrested Jan. 19 upon his surrender to Greenwich police.
Because of confidentiality laws surrounding juvenile cases, Skakel's arraignment would normally have been closed to the public. But Dennis, acting on a request from Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate, The Hartford Courant, Newsday, The New York Times and The Associated Press, last week agreed to open the proceeding.
Dennis found that Skakel had effectively waived his confidentiality rights, both because he is an adult and because his name and the charges against him were already well-known.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.