Speculation surrounds Skakel case
By Kerry Tesoriero - Greenwich Time
STAMFORD - While much has been made of a judge's decision that Michael Skakel should stand trial in the murder of Martha Moxley, one legal mind believes the prosecution will have to close up shop unless the case is transferred out of juvenile court.
Judge Maureen Dennis found on Thursday that "a reasonable and prudent person of caution could logically infer" that Skakel committed the crime in 1975 when he was 15 and Moxley's neighbor in the exclusive gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven.
But the law in 1975 stated that a juvenile could be prosecuted for a crime in juvenile court only until he reached legal adulthood, according to David Moraghan, president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
That age could have been 18 or 21, he said. Skakel, now 39, is far beyond that age.
"I think if (State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict) loses this transfer, the case will go away," Moraghan said. "His only hope of trying, convicting and punishing (Skakel) is as an adult."
"I'm not surprised that she has made the decision she made," Moraghan said of Dennis' finding of reasonable cause. "The evidence was supported. It would be interesting to see what she does with the actual issue of transfer."
Benedict, who called Dennis' finding of reasonable cause "the major hurdle we have to overcome," said he expects the matter to proceed to adult court.
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, has said, "It's of no great moment whether it's in the juvenile or adult court."
Dennis' decision on whether to transfer the case to Superior Court, where adults are tried, depends on several factors.
One will be the severity of the charge, according to Juvenile Public Defender George Oleyer.
"The heinousness of the offense itself is a factor that pretty much stands on its own feet," Oleyer said. "It really depends on the judge you're before."
Finding reasonable cause is the first step toward transferring a case to adult court, the public defender said.
The second step is determining whether the juvenile justice system has adequate programs to rehabilitate the defendant, he said.
Dennis ordered that a juvenile probation officer investigate Skakel and supply a report to assist in her decision regarding the transfer. Such a report is standard procedure, Oleyer said.
The report will probably include information on Skakel's background, education and family life, Oleyer said.
"Usually when you're dealing with a juvenile you pull all those records together, to determine if the person had a record of recidivism in violent crime," he said.
Such reports also would show what kind of treatments the defendant has received and whether they succeeded or failed.
The severity of the charge is one factor the judge can consider as she decides on the transfer, Oleyer said.
Oleyer disagreed with Moraghan's view that the case can't be prosecuted in juvenile court.
"If it can't be transferred out," Oleyer said, "there's certainly nothing to bar prosecution down here (in juvenile court)."