Skakel trial delay expected
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
A state Appellate Court ruling means Michael Skakel probably will not stand trial until 2002 for the 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.
On May 24, the Appellate Court upheld Skakel's right to contest the transfer of his case from the Juvenile Matters division of the Superior Court to be tried as an adult in the criminal division.
Although the Appellate Court has called for an expedited hearing on the appeal, the court also indicated it will not be ready to hear arguments until September, according to State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, the prosecutor in the case.
"That is what the court has told our appellate people," Benedict said yesterday. "I was hoping to pick a jury late this summer and begin presenting evidence after Labor Day. Now (Skakel's) appeal will be expedited, to be argued in September, with a decision by the end of the year."
Also pending, at the trial court level, is Skakel's motion to dismiss the murder charge against him.
"These are the two issues that need to be resolved, the transfer to adult court and the motion to dismiss," defense attorney Michael Sherman said.
Skakel was arrested in January 2000 on a charge of murder and arraigned as a juvenile for a crime he allegedly committed when he was 15.
After presiding that summer over a preliminary hearing, juvenile court Judge Maureen Dennis ruled in February that there was sufficient evidence for Skakel's case to proceed to trial and ordered the case transferred to adult court.
Skakel appealed the transfer in April, arguing in an Appellate Court motion that the law as it existed at the time Moxley was killed should apply to his case. Sherman said he appealed the ruling because it was not his client's fault it took the state 25 years to make an arrest and, therefore, Skakel should be treated as if he was arrested in 1975.
According to 1975 state law, however, juveniles as young as 14 could be tried as adults for murder.
Benedict countered with a motion to dismiss the appeal, but the Appellate Court denied that motion late last month.
Benedict's motion referred to the law that took effect July 1, 1991, which states a judge's decision to transfer a case from juvenile to adult court is "not a final appealable judgment," meaning that a final disposition of a case - such as a jury verdict, a guilty plea or dismissal - must be reached in adult court before the transfer order can be appealed.
Although disappointed with the Appellate Court's action, Benedict said he remained confident Skakel's appeal will be found to be without merit.
"There is no chance Judge Dennis will be reversed," the prosecutor said yesterday. "There is no right to appeal an interlocutory order - which is not a final order - unless the legislature provides for that, and the legislature had not done that in 1975."
The motion to dismiss the murder charge was filed last month after Judge John Kavanewsky Jr., who is presiding over the case in adult court, ruled that an April probable cause hearing presented him with enough evidence for Skakel's case to proceed to trial.
Skakel's motion argues that he cannot be prosecuted for Moxley's death because of a statute of limitations that was in effect when Moxley was slain in 1975. Before the law was amended in 1976, the statute of limitations on bringing a charge for any felony offense was five years. The revised law imposes no time constraints for prosecuting a murder charge.