Smooth sailing in Skakel jury selection Final three
alternate jurors likely to be chosen this week
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. on Friday told potential jurors in the Michael Skakel murder trial that alternate jurors are as important as regular jurors.
Should any of the chosen 12 be unable to complete their duties during the five-week trial starting May 7, alternate jurors will be called on to take their place, he said.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict went a step further, saying alternate jurors in lengthy cases "probably get called on in more cases than they don't."
All of which makes it clear the jury will not be complete until three remaining alternate jurors are selected, likely this week.
Even so, after Thursday's selection of a 12th regular juror, a Greenwich nurse whose daughter is a New York prosecutor, the atmosphere at state Superior Court in Norwalk seemed to lighten.
The heavy lifting was complete and everyone involved seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief.
"We wanted 12 intelligent people, and, boy, it sure looks like we got what we wanted," Benedict said.
Trial watchers say they are amazed by the speed the jury had been selected.
"I believe it's unprecedented in this type of media case," said Joseph Colarusso, a Stamford attorney and former prosecutor.
Traditional wisdom had been that the case's media exposure -- including three books, countless newspaper articles and television news programs, and a "Law and Order" episode -- would make it difficult for attorneys in the case to find unbiased jurors.
While people with such opinions have been routinely rejected from serving, they have not significantly delayed the process.
"I don't think it's taken an appreciable amount longer than a case that was not a media case," Colarusso said.
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, said he was pleased but not surprised by the speed of the process.
"I've always said we'll get a jury and we'll get a jury before the (end of the) month," Sherman said.
But Greenwich attorney Philip Russell said it is possible the process may be going too quickly.
"One of the reasons jury selection has progressed so rapidly is that both sides seem to be seeking similarly situated jurors," he said. "If both sides are looking for the same type of juror, then someone is making a dreadful mistake."
The 12 jurors who will sit in judgment of Skakel -- charged with the 1975 murder of his Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley when both were 15 -- are six men and six woman, all white professionals, most with college degrees.
The first juror selected was a woman in her early 30s who works for a start-up marketing firm. She has a bachelor's degree in architecture and a graduate degree in business administration from Boston University. She mentors a 13-year-old girl in a Big Sister program.
The second juror selected didn't last long. The man, a lead investment officer for a start-up company that employs 20 people, was selected but returned a few days later, asking to be removed from the panel. He said the five-week trial would prove too much of a burden to his fledgling business.
As a result, a high school Spanish teacher from Darien became juror No. 2.
She was followed by what remains the most controversial selection of the panel -- a veteran Darien police officer.
"I've never subscribed to the notion that you can't pick cops. Cops know the system," Sherman said.
What made the choice more surprising was that the officer has faced Sherman in court. 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 officer insisted he could be fair, and Sherman said he believed him.
An administrative assistant at a Stamford executive research firm who said she had read or seen little about the case became the fourth juror.
The fifth juror is a Stamford-based corporate attorney about the same age as Skakel -- who is 41 -- who lives in Darien with his wife and two children. The choice was surprising to many because lawyers often shy away from accepting lawyers on juries on the theory that they can tend to take control of deliberations.
"It's just not a full day unless you break a rule," Sherman joked.
Juror No. 6 was selected despite being friends with a woman whose father was killed in another high-profile Greenwich murder, the 1993 shooting of John Peters. Peters' widow had recently become friendly with Moxley's mother, Dorthy, who said they bonded because of their mutual tragedies.
Two Stamford men filled the next two slots. Juror No. 7 is a Tennessee native and regional director of operations for a large restaurant chain based in New York City. Juror No. 8 owns a local excavation business and said he has an interest in forensic evidence.
After a few days without picking any jurors, attorneys started the third week by agreeing on a New Canaan woman who knows Skakel's stepsister and a male hotel executive who served on a murder trial in Nevada.
The woman acknowledged it might be somewhat "awkward" to face her friend, should she find Skakel guilty, but said she could handle it.
Juror No. 11, a Wilton resident and head of a driver-training company, scored high marks for fairness and his lack of exposure to the case. A native of Walnut Creek, Calif., the man said he neither heard about the case growing up nor has much time to follow it because of his busy work schedule and two young children.
"You couldn't have manufactured a better juror for either side," Sherman said. "He was just right down the middle."
The slate of regular jurors was rounded out Thursday by a Greenwich nurse who said she would make a perfect juror despite having a daughter who is a prosecutor in Westchester County, N.Y.
The hunt for the final three alternate jurors continues Tuesday with a new panel of 25.
-- Staff Writers Eve Sullivan and Lindsay Faber contributed to this story.