"Skakel Attorney Discusses Strategy"
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Although a juvenile court judge must still decide whether 39-year-old
Michael Skakel should be tried as an adult for allegedly murdering Greenwich
teenager Martha Moxley in 1975, Skakel's defense lawyer seems to believe a
public trial is in his client's future.
In remarks yesterday before a local men's group, attorney Michael Sherman
was looking beyond Skakel's preliminary court hearing next month to selecting a
The Retired Men's Association of Greenwich invited Sherman to speak on the
topic of criminal defense, but the talk inevitably turned to the high-profile
murder case involving a 25-year-old homicide and a defendant who is related to
the famed Kennedy clan.
In discussing his courtroom methods, Sherman at one point focused on the
jury selection process and referred to his client when dismissing the practice
by some defense attorneys of hiring consultants to help pick jurors perceived
likely to acquit their clients.
"I do not intend to hire some fancy-shmancy jury expert for the Skakel
case," Sherman told some 50 members of the men's group at the East Putnam Avenue
YMCA. "When I'm picking a jury, I go person-by-person and I go for intelligent
jurors. I'll pick someone for a jury on a visceral feeling."
As he has numerous times since Skakel's arrest in January, Sherman
proclaimed his client's innocence in the Oct. 30, 1975, brutal murder of Moxley,
who lived across the street from Skakel in the town's exclusive Belle Haven
"I only came to know Michael Skakel when I was hired to represent him two
years ago and, now that I have gotten to know him, I can say I really do believe
in him," Sherman said.
Skakel was charged with murder Jan. 19 after an 18-month grand jury
investigation into the long-dormant case that many thought would never result in
an arrest. He was arraigned as a juvenile because, like the victim, he was 15
years old at the time of the alleged offense. On June 20, Superior Court Judge
Maureen Dennis will preside over a "reasonable cause" hearing to decide whether
there is sufficient evidence to support the murder charge. She also will decide
at that time whether to retain Skakel's case in the Juvenile Matters division or
to transfer it to adult court.
The murder defendant's father, Rushton Skakel, was prominent in his own
right when he lived in Greenwich, where, as heir to the Great Lakes Carbon
fortune, he was one of the wealthiest residents of one of the most affluent
communities in the country. The elder Skakel also is brother of Ethel Skakel
Kennedy, widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, a fact that has attracted national
media attention to the Moxley murder.
Sherman is no stranger to high-profile cases. He vaulted into the national
spotlight in 1985, when he created a furor in legal circles by hiring a former
juror as a consultant in the retrial of an accused rapist. Critics declared the
arrangement was a violation of the juror's oath, arguing it might prompt jurors
to intentionally deadlock so they could land consulting jobs for retrials.
Proponents defended Sherman's maneuver as a novel means of expanding the notion
of hired trial experts. The practice was outlawed by the Connecticut General
Assembly the following year, when it passed a statute some called the "Sherman
Sherman again gained national attention as a pioneer of the post-traumatic
stress syndrome defense, which he employed in 1990 to win the acquittal of a
Stamford Vietnam War veteran charged with murdering another man in a parking
dispute. The trial was one of the first to be televised by the then-fledgling
Court TV channel.
Sherman yesterday said his continuing relationship with Court TV turned him
into a "television lawyer," one of a stable of attorneys who make themselves
available on a moment's notice to give on-air commentaries on court cases.
"We make fools of ourselves in return for limo rides and cheap doughnuts in
green rooms," he said.
Sherman said the notoriety Skakel's case has gained allows him to break one
of the attorney rules of ethics, that which forbids publicly offering personal
opinions about a client's guilt or innocence.
When one member of the men's group asked Sherman, "If not Michael, then
who?" the attorney replied, "Damned if I know, but it was somebody who was truly
an evil person."