Skakel to get day, and say, in court
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
Michael Skakel has something to say, and on Wednesday the world will be all ears.
At his sentencing for the 1975 murder of his neighbor Martha Moxley, the 41-year-old Kennedy cousin will have his first chance to say what he thinks about the verdict handed down June 7.
The only time Skakel tried to address the court during his five-week trial, he didn't get very far.
"I'd like to say something," the stunned former speed skier, his hands cuffed behind his back, told Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky after the verdict.
"No sir," the judge shot back before dismissing the jury.
But Wednesday, Skakel has a constitutional right to say whatever he wants to the judge deciding his fate, to the attorneys who prosecuted him, to the family of his victim and to the media that's been credited with helping bring him to justice.
What he'll say, if anything, is anyone's guess. His attorney, Michael Sherman, would not even say this week whether his client will make a statement.
But local attorneys following the case predict one thing Skakel will not do is say anything that jeopardizes the appeal his attorneys have vowed.
"You're not going to have a total acceptance of responsibility and a mea culpa," said Bob Bello, a Stamford criminal defense attorney. "It's just not going to happen in this kind of situation."
While such acknowledgment of responsibility can go a long way toward convincing a sentencing judge to show leniency, the pending appeals mean that avenue is simply not available to Skakel.
"He can't make any admissions in this thing. Zero," said Stamford criminal defense attorney Christian Bujdud.
It also would not be in his best interest, several attorneys noted, for Skakel to go to the other extreme and speak at length about how he is the victim of a wrongful prosecution.
The judge should not, and likely will not, hold it against Skakel for maintaining his innocence. But portraying himself -- a man convicted of beating a young girl to death with a golf club -- as a victim in the case could risk angering the judge.
Which leaves Skakel and his attorneys very little room in which to work.
"I think it's got to be done very delicately," said Emanuel Margolis, the attorney for Michael's bother, Thomas. "It's a real fine line that needs to be walked. I think the attorney for Michael is in a tough spot."
Any comments Skakel does make will likely be read from a "highly scripted" statement, Margolis said.
"I would not have him ad lib anything," Margolis said.
During his argument for leniency, Sherman will almost surely highlight the fact that this case is Skakel's first adult contact with the criminal justice system.
"They have to concentrate on the positive, which is his record, which, since that drunk driving accident in 1978, as far as I know, has been as good as gold," Margolis said.
Friends and family members may very well attest to Skakel's character, Margolis said, a subject the defense steered clear of during trial.
Sherman also will likely argue that incarcerating a law-abiding man, who has a 3-year-old son, so long after the crime serves little purpose, several attorneys noted.
Interestingly, even while continuing to profess his client's innocence, Sherman can point out that the prosecution's theory of the murder was that Skakel committed it in a jealous rage, several attorneys noted.
Evidence presented at trial showed Skakel was smitten with his blond-haired neighbor, but he felt his older brother Thomas, his nemesis, stole her from him, having a sexual encounter with her on the night she was killed.
Sherman can maintain his client was never there, but also ask Kavanewsky to hand down a sentence appropriate for a crime of passion, the attorneys agree.
Few believe, however, that Kavanewsky will be inclined to show Skakel much lenience.
"I think its going to be a very heavy sentence," said James Diamond, a New Canaan defense attorney and former prosecutor. "I'd be surprised if he hands him anything less than 25 to life."
Since the crime occurred in 1975, Skakel must be sentenced under the laws in existence in 1975. Back then, murderers received life sentences. The only question was when the person would be eligible for parole.
According to State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who prosecuted the case, that means Skakel must be sentenced Wednesday to a term of somewhere between 10 years to life and 25 years to life.
The judge can pick any number between 10 and 25 he chooses, but the life term is not negotiable, Benedict explained.
With good time credits, which have since been abolished, the ranges mean Skakel could be eligible for release on parole anywhere from five and a half to 13 years, state prison officials have said.
While he might not say it in court, Kavanewsky will almost certainly bear these numbers in mind in his decision, Diamond said.
Bujdud also believes the judge will come down hard on Skakel.
"I think Kavanewsky's probably going to give him some kind of credit for not have been in the criminal justice system for so many years, but I don't think its going to be very much," he said. "I think he'll hit him with 20 to life."
The brutality of the crime, the evidence of a cover-up, the Moxley family's likely request for the maximum sentence, and the media coverage of the case also will all weigh heavily on the judge's decision, the attorneys said.
"I think in the biblical sense, it'll have to take the wisdom of Solomon to come up with an appropriate sentence in a case like this," Bello said. "This is a really difficult one."