Skakel's fate still unclear
By Rochelle Steinhaus, Court TV
August 17, 2000, 5:15 p.m. ET

STAMFORD, Conn. (Court TV) Call it a split decision.

Judge Maureen Dennis ruled that there is reasonable cause to believe that Michael Skakel murdered Martha Moxley 24 years ago, but did not make a decision on whether the defendant should be tried in adult or juvenile court.

In her ruling, the state juvenile court judge ordered an investigation to further examine the case against 39-year-old Skakel, nephew of Robert F. Kennedy.

The 13-page decision issued Thursday comes less than two months after a three-day hearing to determine whether probable cause existed, and if so, in which venue Skakel would be tried.

Skakel's attorney, Mickey Sherman, was not surprised by the most recent decision.

"We kind of expected this may come down this way," he said immediately following the release of Dennis' decision. "A judge had already found probable cause when they issued an arrest warrant."

But the defense attorney had no prediction about when to expect the judge's next ruling, which could make or break his client's case.

"I couldn't begin to guess what's going to happen next in this case," he said. "We only have half the pieces at this point."

Sherman said that Skakel, who recently moved from Florida to upstate New York, was made aware of the judge's decision and is "as confident as he has ever been" that he'll be acquitted.

Transferring the case to adult court means that Skakel would face 25 years to life in prison, a much stiffer potential sentence than a juvenile court could mete out. As a juvenile, Skakel would have been released when a court judged him rehabilitated, and Skakel's attorney has suggested that by that reasoning, his client shouldn't do any jail time since his "exemplary life" is proof that he long ago rehabilitated himself.

Such transfers are fairly standard for teenagers charged with serious crimes, but nothing in the high-profile Moxley case is routine. Skakel is accused of bludgeoning his teenage neighbor to death with a golf club in 1975 when he was 15. No suspects were charged for nearly 24 years, despite heavy suspicion of the wealthy, well-connected Skakel household.

Prosecutors said Dennis' decision was a step in the right direction.

"It's only the first stage, but it appears to be positive," said Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano.

They also were encouraged that the judge addressed the credibility of some state witnesses who were under scrutiny during the hearing. Classmates who attended a Maine drug and alcohol rehabilitation center with Skakel in the late 1970s took the stand and offered conflicting testimony.

In her decision, Dennis said that the witnesses were believable.

"The court's decision appears to be very supportive of the credibility of the testimony of the state's witnesses," Morano said.

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