Judge: Skakel will stand trial
By Ryan Jockers, Greenwich Time
Stating evidence from a probable cause hearing showed "well beyond mere suspicion" that Michael Skakel could have caused the death of Martha Moxley, a juvenile court judge ruled yesterday that the now 39-year-old murder defendant should stand trial.
Superior Court Judge Maureen Dennis, who presided over a three-day hearing in late June to determine whether Skakel should be tried for murder, yesterday released her decision, concluding that there is reasonable cause to believe Skakel killed Moxley with a golf club in Belle Haven in 1975.
Skakel, 15 at the time of the murder, was charged as a juvenile. Dennis will decide if the case should be tried in adult court, a request the prosecution has made, after receiving a report on Skakel's well-being by a juvenile probation officer.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said yesterday he expects the matter to proceed to adult court, where it would be handled - at least administratively - as a routine murder case.
"I have a difficult time imagining what factors could suggest that the matter be kept in juvenile court," Benedict said.
Attempts to reach Dorthy Moxley, mother of the murder victim, were unsuccessful yesterday.
The Jan. 19 arrest of Skakel, a nephew of Ethel and the late Robert F. Kennedy, launched a national media maelstrom and brought a dramatic climax in the murder case that haunted Greenwich and the exclusive waterfront neighborhood in which the crime took place on the eve of Halloween nearly 26 years ago.
Skakel was arrested after an 18-month, one-man grand jury provided enough evidence for state prosecutors to arrest him.
A resident of Hobe Sound, Fla., when arrested but who recently bought a home in Windham, N.Y., Skakel flew to Connecticut to surrender to the murder charge and was released hours later on $500,000 bond. Skakel has claimed his innocence through his attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford.
Sherman yesterday said he and his client were not surprised by Dennis' decision, adding that she did not need a lot of evidence to determine that probable cause existed.
"We always thought this case was going to trial," Sherman said. "It has never made a big difference if it is, and Michael Skakel has no problem trusting his fate to a jury of his peers."
Dennis's eight-page "finding of fact" is culled from legal arguments and testimony from crime scene witnesses and residents of a Maine rehabilitation center where Skakel lived and allegedly admitted to killing Moxley. Her report graphically details the bludgeoning and restates conversations Skakel allegedly had with Elan School members that place him near where Moxley's body was found, in her parents yard under a pine tree, on Oct. 31, 1975.
According to police and witness testimony, Moxley was killed with a Tony Penna six-iron, and a club from the same set was found in the Skakel residence in the neighborhood of the Moxley's Walsh Lane home, now slated for demolition.
In her decision, Dennis states the three prosecution witnesses from Elan School, who relayed dialogue they had had with Skakel in the rehab facility, were found to be credible, and that witnesses called by Sherman did not refute their testimony.
Dennis heard from two men who said Skakel in 1978 separately told them he murdered Moxley while attending Elan School. The judge also heard evidence from Skakel's childhood best friend, Andrew Pugh, who testified that years after the murder Skakel confided to being at the crime scene the night Moxley was slain.
Pugh testified that after a chance encounter at a 1991 Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Greenwich, Skakel told him he had climbed the tree under which Moxley's body was found and that he masturbated in the tree.
One of the prosecution's former Elan School residents, Gregory Coleman, testified Skakel confided he "drove in (Moxley's) skull" with a golf club and later returned to the body to masturbate over it. Coleman testified Skakel bragged he would get away with the crime because "he was related to the Kennedy family."
In her decision, Dennis wrote: "Of even greater import is the fact that (Skakel) has, twice, made admissions that he committed the murder and, once, even bragged that he was 'going to get away with murder.' "
Benedict yesterday said he anticipated Dennis' decision and does not expect jury selection to begin until late next spring. He said the prosecution presented limited evidence in the hearing and that it had more to present to a courtroom of adult jurors.
"We didn't put the whole case into the juvenile hearing," Benedict said.
Sherman said he was not worried about the prosecution's claim that it has evidence yet to have been presented.
"They certainly did present a minimum because that's what they had," Sherman said.
If the case goes to adult court, Skakel has a right for another probable cause hearing. Another unsettled matter would be the location of the trial. Although the murder occurred in Greenwich, the county courthouse in 1975 was in Bridgeport, where the announcement of Skakel's arrest warrant was made.
Yesterday, Sherman reiterated his long-held stance that there would be no deal in the murder case.
"Plea-bargaining is off the screen," he said.