Skakel juror count hits 10
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- Attorneys in the murder trial of Michael Skakel jumped right into the third week of jury selection yesterday, accepting the first two potential jurors who came before them and bringing the total number of jurors to 10.
A New Canaan woman who knows Skakel's stepsister and a hotel executive who once served on a jury in a Nevada murder trial were accepted to sit on the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates at state Superior Court in Norwalk.
In addition to making progress on seating a jury, Skakel's defense team filed a motion seeking all the prosecution's evidence that might incriminate former Skakel family tutor and suspect Kenneth Littleton.
Skakel, 41, has been charged with the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley, his Belle Haven neighbor. Both were 15 at the time.
After court adjourned yesterday, Michael Sherman, Skakel's lead attorney, said he was pleased with the progress they were making.
"We're just trying to get 16 good people, and I think we're getting there," Sherman said.
After Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. dismissed 10 of the 23 potential jurors because serving on the jury would have been a hardship, Sherman asked a hotel executive in his 40s about his time on a murder trial in Nevada.
While he wasn't asked about the outcome of that case, the man, who works for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., said the experience was worthwhile and he thought justice was done.
Sherman asked the man what his vote would be in the Skakel trial if the judge instructed him to render a verdict right then and there. The man provided the desired answer.
"I suppose not guilty, because I don't know anything," he said.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict followed with a few standard questions regarding reasonable doubt, Skakel's age at the time of the crime, and the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence.
Both sides agreed to accept the man after only limited discussion.
Selection of the second juror was a bit trickier.
Both sides questioned the New Canaan woman at length, and the prosecution team only accepted her after the three attorneys spent an unusually long period of time huddled in discussion.
In response to questions posed by attorneys, the woman revealed several items that might initially seem favorable to the defense.
The woman said she knows Skakel's stepsister, who owns a sporting goods store in New Canaan. Asked how she would feel about that relationship after rendering a verdict in the case, she said it might be "awkward."
She also said Dr. Edward Fleischli, a Pound Ridge, N.Y., veterinarian who will testify for the defense, has treated her pets for about 20 years.
Fleischli is expected to testify about barking dogs. Reports of dogs barking about 10 p.m. on the night Moxley was killed caused investigators to initially believe that the murder occurred about that time.
Some trial watchers have said they expect Sherman will try to support the theory that the murder happened around 10 p.m. and present evidence that Skakel wasn't in the area then, but was miles away at a cousin's house.
Sherman also asked the woman if there was anything else the attorneys ought to know about her.
"The only thing I can think of is, I do have a fairly intimate relationship with drug and alcohol abuse," she said.
The woman explained that a family member had gone through a drug treatment program, and she would likely have a greater understanding of those kinds of issues than others.
"Do you feel comfortable listening to the testimony of people with substance abuse problems and assessing their credibility?" Sherman asked. She said she did.
The recollections of Skakel's classmates at Elan, a substance abuse treatment program in Poland Springs, Maine, are central to the prosecution's case. According to the arrest warrant, at least half a dozen of Skakel's former classmates have come forward to say he either confessed to killing Moxley with a golf club or put himself at the scene of her murder.
Some of the woman's other answers, however, made it clear she wouldn't necessarily vote for acquittal.
Sherman asked about her thoughts on the criminal justice system in general and the O.J. Simpson murder trial in particular.
"I thought it was a circus," she said.
Sherman then asked who was responsible for justice not being served in the Simpson case.
"I think the defense lawyers had a lot to do with it," she said.
She later added, however, that prosecutors and police were probably as much to blame for failing to make their case. She also said she did not see Sherman as a high-priced defense attorney who would use "smoke and mirrors" to get his wealthy client acquitted at all costs.
Sherman's three-page discovery motion seeks a host of information from the prosecution about Littleton, as well as information about Gregory Coleman, Skakel's former classmate who admitted he testified before the grand jury while high on heroin. Coleman died last year, and it is unclear whether his testimony from the previous hearing will be admitted at trial.
Regarding Littleton, who is expected to testify for the prosecution, Sherman wants to know more about the decision to give him immunity in exchange for his earlier testimony. He also asked for the results of all reports or tests on Littleton's hair, saliva and semen, as well as his private property, including clothing, shoes, blankets and other items.
Sherman declined to explain the reason for the request.
"The motion speaks for itself," he said.
The request may be connected to earlier reports that a hair found on a sheet used to wrap Martha Moxley's body at the scene of the murder bears similarities to Littleton's hair samples.