So far, Skakel trial has city underwhelmed
By John Nickerson, Special Correspondent - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- Forecasts of packed parking garages and traffic jams caused by hordes of trialgoers, it turns out, have been greatly exaggerated.
All around the state Superior Court building, business owners, neighbors, police and parking attendants say it's much ado about nothing.
Though a dozen satellite television trucks and the reporters and cameramen that go with them have showed up as predicted, the crowd of trial watchers predicted for the spectacle of a Kennedy cousin's murder trial haven't appeared. Michael Skakel is charged with killing Martha Moxley in 1975, when the two were 15-year-old neighbors in Greenwich.
Until Wednesday afternoon, when two or three people were unable to find seats in the Belden Avenue court building, no one had been turned away from the 173-seat courtroom for lack of space, said Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch.
Many mornings, Vanity Fair's celebrity court scribe, Dominick Dunne, sits alone in a hallway or on a court bench. Looking expectantly at each new face coming down the hall, Dunne seems ready to engage in conversation with anyone.
The ducks -- a mallard that has nested at the courthouse for several years and her 14 ducklings -- are oblivious to the proceedings as they paddle around a blue plastic pool in an open-air courtyard just off the main hallway.
Before court, defendant Skakel and his lawyer, Michael Sherman, walk through the courthouse, minus a scrum of reporters shadowing their every move.
After the first few days of jury selection and fewer than anticipated traffic woes, Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling pulled two officers off their overtime assignments.
"There has been virtually no Norwalk police overtime," Rilling said. "From a police perspective, it has not been a problem at all."
Initially, four to six state troopers were assigned to crowd control at the courthouse. That number has been cut to one or two.
"It's quiet," said Lt. Bob Tolomeo, commander of Troop G in Bridgeport. "It's not necessary, so why pay the extra money?"
A Byington Place resident who lives around the corner from the courthouse said the trial is "no big deal."
Pat Hendricks, manager of the KIA car dealership on Cross Street, said producers from NBC's "Today" show and others called early on to arrange live shots from the dealership, which overlooks the courthouse. But they soon called back to cancel, citing a lack of interest, he said.
"I've seen days when normal court is busier," Hendricks said.
He offered the city 50 parking spaces at the KIA dealership, but only 10 to 15 were used during the first three days of jury selection. Since then, nobody has used his spaces.
Although news organizations have been renting parking spaces in the city's Yankee Doodle parking garage, 27 free all-day spaces were vacant Wednesday morning.
"I thought there'd be so many cars, on the street, everywhere. That's what they were talking about," parking attendant Gus Papadopoulos said.
Few parking problems have been reported.
A police sergeant was in the People's Bank parking lot Wednesday, turning away courthouse-bound drivers.
At the Medical Center building at 40 Cross St., manager Thomas Murphy said he put up cones and signs and hired a full-time security guard for $2,000 per month to keep his parking lot clear for patients.
But even he couldn't get worked up about the trial.
"The police are doing everything they can. It looks like they are doing their best," Murphy said.