Station asks to cover Skakel in court
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
The cable television channel that beamed the O.J. Simpson trial into millions of American living rooms each day now wants to do the same for the Martha Moxley murder case.
Court-TV has made an application with state Superior Court in Stamford to be allowed to televise the court proceedings for defendant Michael Skakel, arrested Jan. 19 for allegedly bludgeoning and stabbing to death his 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor in 1975.
"We seek to televise many cases we believe are of public interest," Court-TV general counsel Douglas Jacobs explained yesterday. "This case is of particular interest because it's an unsolved crime from 25 years ago, which occurred under unusual circumstances, and it involves a socially prominent family."
The prominence of the Skakel family has attracted national media attention to the case since 15-year-old Moxley was murdered the evening of Oct. 30, 1975. Michael Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel, who sold his Greenwich mansion in 1993 to live in Florida, is the wealthy heir of the fortune of Great Lakes Carbon, a manufacturer of industrial coke. The elder Skakel's sister is Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of the assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Court-TV's application, filed May 15 with both Stamford Administrative Judge Edward Karazin Jr. and the Skakel case trial judge, Maureen Dennis, was pending as of yesterday.
According to state court rules, Karazin and Dennis each will have to approve the application. Although the rules do not require it, the judges probably will seek input from the prosecutor and the defense attorney in the case before rendering a decision, according to court officials.
The prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, who is representing Skakel, said he has not yet considered the matter and therefore had no comment.
"It's something I haven't addressed," he said. "There are more important issues I'm concerned with right now."
Since Court-TV went on the air in 1991, it has broadcast only two Connecticut criminal trials. In one of those trials, Sherman served as defense attorney for Stamford resident Roger Ligon, who was charged with murder for fatally shooting an unarmed man in a dispute over a parking space. In the 1991 trial in Stamford, Sherman won an acquittal by successfully employing the post-traumatic stress disorder defense for Ligon, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
The other televised Connecticut trial was for the man later convicted of the 1991 mugging and murder of Yale undergraduate Christian Prince in New Haven.
Court-TV was recently denied permission to televise the Bridgeport trial of Russell Peeler, one of two brothers accused of murdering a woman and her 8-year-old son who had been a key witness against Peeler in a previous murder case. Benedict, who also is prosecuting that case, reportedly opposed the Court-TV request.
Although Sherman would not say whether he would support or oppose Court-TV's pending application, he said televising court proceedings has value for both the participants and viewing public.
"I've been through it, and I found out the television cameras are not such a distraction because you get used to them and the hoopla very quickly," Sherman said. "What I liked about the process was the fact it did seem to put everyone on their best behavior. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges act a little bit more deliberately, knowing their every move is being scrutinized not just by the people in the court room, but folks sitting in front of a TV in Kansas.
"(Television) allows people to see how the process works and promotes confidence in the jury's verdict when they have seen what really went on as opposed to getting second- or third-hand spin from pundits and reporters."
The prosecutor who opposed Sherman during the Ligon trial had a different view on television coverage.
"Yes, the public has a right to know what is going on in its court rooms, and in theory television coverage is good because it clearly allows a larger number of people to see what's going on," Senior Assistant State's Attorney Bruce Hudock said. "Having said that, and based on my own experience and from watching trials on TV, television cameras can affect the behavior of the attorneys, who can clearly turn into showmen for the purposes of the TV audiences and not just the jury."
Skakel, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering Moxley, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing June 20 in Superior Court in Stamford. Jacobs, the Court-TV attorney, said if the application is granted, he believes televised coverage could begin with that hearing.