Prosecutors oppose new Skakel trial
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
Michael Skakel's conviction for the murder of Martha Moxley was based on a "mountain of evidence" and his request for a new trial should be denied, prosecutors argued in two motions filed yesterday.
In the motions, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill urged state Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. to deny motions filed by Skakel's defense attorneys shortly after his murder conviction on June 7.
A jury of six men and six women found the 41-year-old Skakel guilty of beating his neighbor to death with a 6-iron in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich in 1975, when they were both 15.
His twice-delayed sentencing is set for Wednesday at state Superior Court in Norwalk.
A week after the verdict, defense attorney Michael Sherman filed a motion for a new trial, citing 18 errors allegedly committed by the court during the five-week trial.
He also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a motion for judgment of acquittal on behalf of his client, who is incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institute in Newtown.
But Gill argued that the defense has failed to raise any issues significant enough to justify a new trial or merit the judge throwing out the verdict.
In her first motion, Gill responds to Sherman's request that Kavanewsky set aside, or dismiss, the verdict, as not supported by the evidence.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Gill wrote. ". . . Suffice it to say that the overwhelming weight of the evidence established that the defendant had motive, opportunity, and a direct connection with the murder weapon."
Prosecutors proved the golf club belonged to Skakel's deceased mother.
Gill highlighted the "dozen or more admissions and partial admissions" that Skakel made since 1975, as well as the "dramatic change in (his) story from 1975 to 1997."
"Putting aside the defendant's direct confessions of guilt, the defendant gave at least three diametrically opposed versions of his actions that night," she wrote.
In 1975, Skakel told police he went to bed that night and never left. At the Elan School in the late 1970s, he told people he was drunk and couldn't remember whether he or his brother had killed Moxley. And in 1997, his account to writer Richard Hoffman placed him at the crime scene at the time of the murder, Gill argued.
"In light of this mountain of evidence, there is no basis for concluding that jury's verdict was based on anything other than a rationale (sic) and dispassionate assessment of that evidence," she concluded.
In a similar motion, Gill addressed Sherman's assertion that the court's errors mandate a new trial.
"Despite raising eighteen allegations of error, defendant has failed to present this court with substantial ground" for a new trial, Gill wrote.
Limiting her argument to just three of the 18 defense claims, she skipped the defense's seven allegations of judicial error, noting that they failed to prove Kavanewsky abused his discretion.
Several other claims, including the one that prosecutors inflamed and prejudiced the jury with a multimedia closing argument, are issues for the appellate courts to decide, Gill wrote.
Gill took on, however, the claim that prosecutors failed to turn over certain evidence before the trial.
Sherman claimed prosecutors suppressed evidence, including a 1976 Greenwich Police Department application for an arrest warrant for Thomas Skakel, Michael's older brother, and a 1992 videotaped interview with former Skakel tutor Kenneth Littleton.
But Gill argued that both pieces of evidence became available to Sherman before or during the trial, and therefore he cannot argue they were suppressed.
Gill also rebutted two claims of juror misconduct.
Sherman argued that the judge erred when he refused to dismiss juror H. William Smith. During the trial, as the jurors were filing out of the courtroom, Smith, a Darien lawyer, remarked to a fellow juror that he saw Skakel say "good job" to his cousin, James Dowdle, after his testimony.
Dowdle's testimony bolstered Skakel's alibi that he accompanied his brothers on a car ride to Dowdle's backcountry Greenwich home about the time Moxley was killed.
At a hearing on the issue during the trial, prosecutors argued that the remark was innocuous. If anyone should be rebuked, it should be Skakel, they claimed.
"As the state argued at the time, a defendant is responsible for his conduct in the courtroom; he cannot hold it against a juror for noticing it," Gill wrote.
Gill noted the judge had investigated the incident and found that neither Smith nor the other jurors were prejudiced by the remark.
The judge also should ignore the defense claim that juror Catherine Lazansky failed to understand the concept of reasonable doubt, Gill argued.
Sherman cited two media reports quoting Lazansky, a nurse from Greenwich whose daughter is a prosecutor in Westchester County, N.Y., as saying "We worked very, very hard to find something that would acquit Michael Skakel. . . . We just couldn't" and "I can't find anything to acquit this guy."
The law, however, does not allow the defense to second-guess the thought processes of jurors unless there is misconduct, Gill said.
"Because the remarks attributed to Lazansky provide no suggestion of misconduct, and because, in any event, inquiry into her thought process in arriving at a verdict is prohibited, this court need take no action in response to this allegation," Gill wrote.
The judge is expected to hear oral arguments and rule on the motions before sentencing Skakel.
He faces a prison term of between 10 years to life and 25 years to life.