By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer
Greenwich Time, July 26, 1998
George N. Thim, a 55-year-old Trumbull resident who has quietly toiled in the state judiciary since 1985, is now the main player in a high-profile case that has stumped police and prosecutors since 1975.
Last month Thim was appointed as a one-judge grand jury to probe the Moxley case, a move that could signal a last-ditch attempt to solve the murder. As grand juror, Thim will review the extensive case file, question witnesses and, in the end, submit a report stating whether anyone should face trial for smashing Moxley's skull with a golf club and impaling the dying girl with the club's broken shaft. Many who are familiar with the largely circumstantial homicide case believe if Thim's report does not ask for an arrest, the investigation will be permanently shelved and Moxley's killer will never be brought to justice.
Reportedly a reserved and modest man, Thim declined a request for an interview. Colleagues within the Connecticut court system described the son of a former state Supreme Court justice as a meticulous and highly capable jurist.
"Judge Thim is a person who os very able and goes about his work in a very businesslike way, so I have confidence he will do what he is supposed to do without getting lost along the way," state Chief Court Administrator Aaron Ment said on Thursday. "I've served as grand jurist several times, and I've found the most important thing a judge needs is a steady hand. He needs to be even-handed and calm, and not go off on tangents, because it's very important that a grand jury works as expeditiously as possible. These are all qualities that Judge Thim possesses."
Last month, after a three-judge panel sitting in New Haven approved a prosecutor's application for a grand jury to probe the Moxley murder, Ment selected Thim for the job from a pool of 160 Superior Court judges. "I know that Judge Thim has sat on complex cases, and I know he has a good grasp of the law," Ment said.
It would appear that Thim, a native of New Haven, was destined for the bench. He is son of the late John R. Thim, who rose from Hamden town counsel to serve as both state Supreme Court justice and speaker of the House of Representatives in Hartford. Thim graduated from the private Hopkins School in New Haven in 1961, earned a bachelor's degree at Williams College in 1965, and graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1968. That same year, he was admitted to the state bar and set up private practice in Bridgeport.
In 1975, Thim began serving as assistant public defender in state Superior Court in Bridgeport, representing defendants on the Part A docket - those accused of serious felonies. Three years later, Thim was appointed public defender of the newly created Danbury Judicial District, a post he held until his appointment to the bench by then-Gov. William O'Neill in 1985.
While defending indigent clients in Danbury, Thim frequently worked with attorney Eugene Riccio, a prominent Bridgeport-based criminal defense lawyer who, at the time, was the Litchfield County public defender. "In Litchfield, the caseload was not so substantial, so I would go down to Danbury to help with George's cases," Riccio said. "He was a hard worker who took his job very seriously. George was a bright, creative guy when it came to legal arguments."
Although no one interviewed for this article could recall particular cases or trials Thim had been involved in as a public defender, court archives show that the young defense attorney took four cases to the state Appellate Court, overturning convictions for three of them.
In his first appeal, in 1976, Thim overturned the conviction of Mark Mascone, accused of raping a Danbury woman at gunpoint two years earlier. He successfully argued that incriminating statements Mascone made while in police custody should not have been allowed at trial because they were made without his client having been given the opportunity to be represented by an attorney.
Thim's two other appellate victories came in 1978, when he had armed robbery and murder convictions overturned, both because the juries had not been properly charged by the trial judges prior to deliberating.
Coincidentally, the prosecutor in each of the three cases Thim successfully appealed was State's Attorney Donald Browne, who headed the Moxley investigation from 1975 until his retirement in September 1997. Browne remained on as special prosecutor for the Moxley matter until he removed himself from the case this April, citing speculation in a recently published book that he had intentionally mishandled the investigation after being bribed.
The Moxley case has received national attention because two of the murder suspects are nephews of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, Michael and Thomas Skakel. Then 15 and 17 years old, respectively, the brothers lived across the street from Moxley in 1975, and had been with the victim the night of the murder. Police identified the murder weapon as a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family.
Grand jury testimony began last month at the Fairfield County Courthouse in Bridgeport, and some believe Browne will be among the witnesses who will appear before Thim.
Although Thim served as public defender for a decade, Riccio said the Moxley grand juror should not be viewed as a judge who is likely to favor defendants. "George plays it right down the middle," Riccio said. "The popular misconception is that just because you were a public defender it means you're going to be pro- defense. That's not the case, and it's certainly not the case with George."
In his 13 years on the bench, nearly all of Thim's experience has been from presiding over civil matters in the Stamford-Norwalk, Danbury, and Fairfield judicial districts. While serving as the Fairfield district's administrative judge, from 1991 to 1996, Thim was responsible for implementing all state court programs, polices and directives within the district, as well as reassigning other judges when necessary to fill vacancies. He was transferred from the Fairfield district's civil division to its criminal division on June 2, just prior to being appointed grand juror for the Moxley case.
During the first year of his judicial career, Thim was assigned to Superior Court in Stamford and presided over a civil matter involving a building construction dispute in which now-Superior Court Judge William Hickey Jr., served as an attorney. Although Hickey last week said he could not recall details of the case, he remembered Thim had been "capable" and "fair." Of Thim's appointment as Moxley grand juror, Hickey said, "I'm sure he will conduct the investigation very thoroughly."
Also during his brief stint at the Stamford court house, Thim presided over a criminal case in which the defendant was represented by Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, who was hired last week by Moxley murder suspect Michael Skakel to represent him in connection with the grand jury.
In 1985, Sherman created controversy when he hired a juror from an accused rapist's first trial as a consultant for the defendant's retrial. Critics condemned the arrangement as a violation of the juror's oath, arguing it might influence future jurors to intentionally deadlock in order to land consulting jobs for retrials. Proponents defended Sherman's novel maneuver as a means of expanding the notion of hired experts.
The practice of hiring former jurors was outlawed the following year by the General Assembly, when it passed a statute some still refer to as the "Sherman Law." Even with the juror from the first trial assisting him, Sherman failed to sway the second jury and his client was convicted.
Sherman said he did not believe Thim would hold the episode against his client during the grand jury proceedings. "We enjoyed a good relationship before that happened, and afterward as well," the attorney said.
Judge Harold Dean, the state's senior-most Superior Court judge who sits in Stamford, agreed with Thim's selection as grand juror, saying, "Judge Ment could not have picked a better man." Dean said Thim had appeared before him as a public defender, and that Thim "always knew the law and made a good presentation." He added, "Judge Thim has it all - he's bright and he's talented."
Although Thim has limited experience as a criminal court judge, Ment said, "A good judge is a good judge is a good judge." The chief court administrator said when deciding who should head the Moxley probe, he was aware of the many years Thim had spent in criminal courts as public defender, experience which "gives him a basic understanding of the process."
Ment added: "Truthfully, that was not a major factor in my decision. In my role as chief court administrator, I'm familiar with all of the judges, and I simply felt Judge Thim was someone who could do the job."