Juror no stranger to Skakel lawyer:
Darien police officer
was victim in earlier assault trial.
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time

NORWALK -- A Darien police officer who has faced Michael Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, in court several times became the fourth juror of five yesterday.

Skakel, 41, will be tried next month for the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Greenwich resident Martha Moxley.

"Our recipe has been very simple -- (the police officer) is a fair-minded person," Sherman said yesterday in defense of the decision. "I've never subscribed to the notion that you can't pick cops. Cops know the system."

Sherman represented a man who was arrested for assaulting the officer as he tried to resuscitate the man's father, who had a heart attack. The defendant received one year of probation, he said.

Sherman also represented Walter Goodwin, the former principal of K.T. Murphy Elementary School in Stamford. In that case, Goodwin was administratively sanctioned for sexual misconduct, and the police officer's wife was a witness for the school system. Goodwin was fired.

"He's a fair-minded person," Sherman said of the officer. "It's not a cop case. We're not here to vilify the police."

Sherman, who is known for bold and creative defenses, acknowledged his acceptance of the officer was unorthodox.

"I'm sure the jury experts are lining up to roast me tonight," he said.

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict did not object, either.

"It's not the first time I've tried a case where a police officer was selected to a jury," Benedict said. "Police officers have more experience with the court system. They're fair."

The juror, who also knows a retired Greenwich police officer who will be called as a witness by the prosecution, insisted he could fairly consider the case against Skakel, who was 15 at the time of Moxley's slaying and lived near her in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Greenwich.

The juror, who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle like Sherman and the retired Greenwich police officer, said he has no opinion about whether Skakel committed the crime.

"I know I'm fair," he said.

Howard Varinsky, a jury consultant who worked on the recent dog mauling case in California, said Sherman's move might seem to be a mistake. But selecting the officer may be an example of what jury experts call "inoculation," Varinsky said.

"What happens, psychologically, is this juror will hopefully strive to go overboard the other way to be fair," he said.

Another juror was selected moments later, a female administrative assistant who works at an executive search firm in Stamford.

The woman said she had not paid attention to media accounts of the case.

Five jurors -- two men and three women, all of them Caucasian -- had been chosen by the end of day three of jury selection. Twelve jurors and four alternates are needed.

A man named as a juror Tuesday will return to the courtroom today to be questioned by lawyers from both sides. It is not clear whether the man, an investment officer who complained that he did not want to sit on the jury, will be heard again and his juror status revoked.

Neither side would comment on that issue.

Moxley was bludgeoned to death with a golf club, and her body was found on her family's lawn on Oct. 31, 1975.

Prosecutors believe Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, used a six-iron from his late mother's monogrammed golf club set to murder Moxley. Skakel allegedly confessed to the killing to classmates at the Elan School in Maine in the late 1970s.

No one was charged in the murder for more than 24 years, until a one-judge grand jury found cause to have Skakel arrested in January 2000.

If convicted, Skakel could face life in prison.

While jury selection continued, an attorney for Skakel's elderly father said yesterday Rushton Skakel is too ill to offer meaningful testimony in his son's trial.

Rushton Skakel, 77, of Hobe Sound, Fla., recently underwent prostate surgery and suffers from dementia, attorney Emanuel Margolis said.

"He's not competent to testify what he did last week, let alone 27 years ago," Margolis said.

But he said there were no current plans to fight the subpoena prosecutors requested.

"I don't want to convey the impression . . . that the Skakel family is trying to cover up any information or evidence, which has never been the case," Margolis said. "I think it will become apparent quickly to the judge and the jury that he is not competent to testify."

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