High court to hear Skakel appeal
By J.A. Johnson Jr. Greenwich Time
The state Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear Michael Skakel's appeal of a juvenile court judge's ruling that he must be tried as an adult in the 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.
Both prosecuting and defense attorneys asked the high court last month to directly consider the appeal that had been pending in state Appellate Court.
"We have said all along that we want a swift resolution to this case, and since it was likely this matter would be heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court anyway, why waste time getting there," said Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman.
"We are pleased because it will potentially save time," State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said. "Had the matter stayed in Appellate Court, whichever party lost at that level would have at least petitioned" the Supreme Court for further appeal.
"This in effect is a bridge over that whole initial step," he continued, "which will allow us to at least wrap up this part of the case."
Although the court's brief statement does not provide a timetable, Benedict said he expected oral arguments to be scheduled for September, with a ruling to follow within a month or two.
"It would be in keeping with the expedited status of this case," Benedict said.
At issue is Juvenile Matters Judge Maureen Dennis' Jan. 31 decision to transfer the 40-year-old Skakel's case to adult court. Skakel, nephew of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was charged in January 2000 for the 1975 slaying of his 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor. Skakel appealed Dennis' decision in April, and the following month the Appellate Court denied the state's motion to dismiss the appeal, ordering both sides to file briefs arguing why the matter was appealable.
Benedict filed a motion referring to a law that took effect in 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, guilty plea or dismissal, must be reached in adult court before the transfer order can be appealed.
Skakel's lawyers filed a brief stating that juvenile court transfers had been considered final judgments when Moxley was killed 26 years ago and that "repeal of a right to appeal cannot be applied retroactively to (Skakel)."
In making her ruling, Dennis had said Skakel had to be tried as an adult because there are no state juvenile facilities that could accommodate the middle-aged defendant.
Defense attorneys had hoped to keep the case in juvenile court, where Skakel faced a maximum sentence of four years in a rehabilitative facility, as opposed to 18 years-to-life in prison if convicted as an adult. In their brief, defense attorneys argue that Dennis erred because there are out-of-state facilities to which Skakel could be sent.
"The court's conclusion that no appropriate facilities were available for (Skakel's) care and treatment was simply wrong," the brief argues.
After the transfer to adult court, and following a probable cause hearing in April, Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. said there was enough evidence for Skakel's case to proceed to trial. Among that evidence was testimony from witnesses who said Skakel, while attending a substance abuse rehabilitation facility with them, had confessed that he had fatally bludgeoned Moxley with a golf club.
A trial date has not been set.