Judge rules jurors cannot rehear final arguments
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- Jurors in the murder trial of Michael Skakel asked yesterday to rehear part of the state's closing argument, but the judge denied the request, saying it was a biased interpretation of evidence.
Appearing relieved, Skakel shook his lawyers' hands after Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr.'s ruling. The decision was expected, based on legal precedence.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict's impassioned argument could have been all too persuasive to a deliberating jury trying to put the pieces of a circumstantial case together, the defense and judge agreed.
Benedict had argued in his closing statement that Skakel, now 41, placed himself at the crime scene in a taped interview played to jurors, and that in a fit of rage and passion he beat neighbor Martha Moxley, 15, to death with a golf club on Oct. 30, 1975. Skakel was also 15 at the time of the murder in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich.
The jury yesterday also finished hearing the portions of testimony it had asked to rehear earlier this week, along with select parts of the judge's instructions, indicating to lawyers that a verdict could come soon.
"I think they are getting close because they're not asking for (additional) readbacks," said Skakel's lawyer, Michael Sherman. "They're getting down to the nitty-gritty. But this is all Ouija board kind of stuff."
Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano said he hoped a verdict would come soon, but it was difficult to predict a jury's timing.
Neither said they believed the jury was stuck entering its fourth day of deliberations today
The air in courtroom C at State Superior Court in Norwalk was of a heavier sort yesterday, buzzing with hunches that a verdict could be imminent. Moxley and Skakel family members, along with the defense team and prosecutors, paced the halls, wondering whether it was the day.
But the jury deliberated for about three hours and 40 minutes and went home for a third day without a verdict.
Sherman argued vehemently against the jury's request to hear the second half of Benedict's closing argument, which he had conceded earlier was a strong end to the state's case.
"It's too easy to confuse argument with evidence," Sherman said outside of the presence of the jury. "I don't think this is the case where we need to start taking chances with that."
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill argued in favor of the jury's rehearing the closing argument, which prosecutors earlier referred to as a "grand slam."
"The state sees no prejudice in having the jury hear what they've already heard," Gill said.
The jury heard portions of testimony from former Belle Haven residents Helen Ix Fitzpatrick and Andy Pugh and forensics expert Dr. Henry Lee. They also listened again to the judge's charges on reasonable doubt, intentional murder, motive and alibi.
The jury dropped its request to rehear the testimony of Skakel's Elan School classmate John Higgins, who said Skakel sobbed as he confessed to the murder while at the behavioral treatment center in Maine.
Fitzpatrick, who testified May 9, said she was at the Skakel property on the night of the murder, hanging out with Moxley, Skakel, his brother Thomas Skakel and other friends. She said she could not be sure whether Michael Skakel got into the car that night to go to his cousin's house in backcountry Greenwich. She said it was more probable than not.
Skakel has maintained an alibi that he was at his cousin James Dowdle's home from about 9:30 to 11:15 p.m. and was not in Belle Haven at 10 p.m., when some suggest the murder occurred, according to testimony.
Pugh testified May 20 that Skakel told him in 1991 that he climbed a tree on the Moxley property on the night of the murder and masturbated. Skakel also said he tried to throw rocks and sticks at Moxley's window and peep in, Pugh said, adding that Skakel told him he had a crush on Moxley. Moxley did not return the feelings, Pugh said.
Skakel and Pugh had drifted apart since the murder, Pugh testified, adding that he turned down Skakel's 1991 invitation to rekindle their friendship because he had concerns that Skakel was involved in Moxley's murder.
Finally, the jury reheard a portion of Sherman's May 8 cross-examination of Lee, during which Sherman asked whether there was any direct evidence linking Skakel to the crime.
"I don't have direct, but I do have indirect evidence," Lee said, in a comment that lawyers did not pursue further.
Deliberations resume today. Lawyers said they did not expect Kavanewsky to ask the jurors to deliberate through the weekend if they not reach a verdict today.