Second week of jury selection
in the Michael Skakel trial.
By Ken Borsuk and Peter Moore - Greenwich Post
The second week of jury selection in the Michael Skakel trial began just as the first had, with a new pool of prospective jurors being brought into the courtroom of Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. in Norwalk.
By the end of the day a new juror had been selected, bringing the total of accepted jurors up to six. 12 regular jurors and four alternates will be selected for the trial, which is currently scheduled to begin on May 7.
Skakel, 41, is accused of bludgeoning Martha Moxley to death in October 1975, when they both were 15 years old. Both were Greenwich residents in Belle Haven at the time of the crime.
Last week, lawyers for both sides agreed to seat two unconventional jury picks: a Darien police officer and a corporate lawyer.
Police officers are often not seated on juries, because of an assumed bias toward the prosecution. The selected officer also has faced Skakel’s defense attorney Michael Sherman in court. Several years ago Sherman represented a man who allegedly assaulted the officer while he was attempting to revive the suspect’s unconscious father.
Nevertheless, Sherman expressed confidence in the juror, who appeared to be in his 40's.
“I’ve never subscribed to the notion you can’t pick cops,” Sherman said, calling the officer a “fair-minded person.”
“To me, it’s a plus,” Sherman said. “He knows the system.”
State’s Attorney Jonathan Benedict said he had seen police officers picked for juries before.
“Police officers have more experience with life and the court system,” Benedict said. “If anything I think it makes them fairer.”
The lawyer, also a Darien resident, called himself “deliberate and logical in the sense that my job requires.”
Sherman explained that lawyers are often not picked to sit on juries because many people believe they will try to assume a leadership role on the jury as an expert.
“The conventional wisdom is: ‘Don’t pick lawyers because they become the head of the jury and tell everyone what the law is,’” Sherman said. He added he doubted this lawyer would follow that pattern.
Tuesday's proceedings included the selection of a Stamford woman who appeared to be in her early to mid 40's. Her selection was seen by courthouse observers as a bit of a surprise because of her admission that her close friend’s father, John Perry, was murdered in Greenwich in 1993, and that as a result of the tragedy, Perry’s widow has become very close friends with Dorthy Moxley, Martha Moxley’s mother.
However, the juror said this would not cloud her judgement of the case.
The juror is also the mother of two sons, the oldest of which is 15, the same age Moxley was at the time of her murder. She was asked during her questioning whether her being a mother would affect her decision-making and possibly cause her to sympathize with the Moxley family.
"I don't know if I can," said the juror. "It's part of who I am."
Lawyers on both sides felt that she would be effective as a juror.
"The court is not going to require you to suppress your emotions,” Benedict said as he questioned the juror. "But we will require you to set your feelings of sympathy aside or at least have it play no part in your decision."
Sherman said she would be effective despite the chance of her sympathies going toward the Moxleys.
"Why would I challenge her for being a compassionate human being?" Sherman asked. "Who of us does not sympathize with the Moxley family? I think she can be very fair minded and that's what we want."
A juror who had been accepted on the first day of selection was dismissed by Kavanewsky on Friday, when he told the judge that his absence of work would be detrimental to his firm.
The man is part of a new start up investment firm and he brought with him to court a letter from his employer asking for the dismissal. Being on the jury, he said, would prevent him from bringing in clients to the firm.
"I've worked 20 years for this opportunity," the man said before his dismissal. "I can't see how I can give my full attention to the case. I've got too much going on."
"I don't like losing a juror in a case like this," Kavanewsky said. "It's obvious to me that you are distracted though and I don't want to jeopardize either party's case."
After the dismissal, Sherman said that losing the juror was just something that had to be dealt with and that it won't change anything.
"It's the nature of the game," Sherman said. "That's why they've given us four weeks to do this."
Throughout the first week of jury selection, the two sides circled around the same themes in their examinations of potential jurors. Benedict, along with Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Susan Gill and Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, asked potential jurors if they understood the concepts of circumstantial evidence and what it meant to have to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The concepts proved confusing to the potential jurors at times, requiring explanations both from the lawyers and from the judge.
Prosecutors also asked if jurors would have problems with the 27- year gap between the murder and the trial.
Sherman and co-counsel Jason Thorne asked jurors what information they had about the case and where they had heard it. Sherman tried to see if jurors had seen programs where guilt was cast upon Skakel and to determine if that affected their opinion of him.
Sherman also reminded jurors that Skakel was innocent in the eyes of the law unless prosecutors
proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Despite not making an appearance on the first day of jury selection, Dorthy Moxley was a regular fixture in the courtroom.
She said that organizational problems prevented her from attending on the first day but that she hoped to be able to appear for the rest of selection and through the trial itself, which Kavanewsky has estimated will take five weeks.
If convicted of the crime, Skakel, who is free on a $500,000 bond, faces a sentence of life in prison.