Court will hear Skakel's plea to try case in juvenile court
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
A pivotal moment in the Martha Moxley murder case is set to take place in Hartford tomorrow.
The state's Supreme Court justices will hear arguments on defendant Michael Skakel's appeal of a Superior Court judge's Jan. 31 ruling that transferred Skakel's case from juvenile to adult court.
Skakel, nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, lived hear Moxley in Belle Haven at the time of her death. Because Skakel was 15 years old when Moxley was killed in 1975, he was charged as a juvenile in January 2000, when police charged him with the slaying of his 15-year-old neighbor.
Defense attorneys had hoped to keep the case in juvenile court, where Skakel faced a maximum sentence of four years in a rehabilitative facility, as opposed to 18 years-to-life in prison if he were convicted as an adult.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict has said he might suspend prosecution should Skakel's appeal succeed because Skakel would face such a small penalty in juvenile court that it would not be worth the trauma to Moxley's family.
Defense attorney Michael Sherman said that although he hopes to prevail tomorrow, he harbors "mixed emotions" about the Supreme Court hearing.
"If we win before the Supreme Court, the case will be tried before a judge rather than a jury, and I've always felt this case needs a jury verdict because the public will have more confidence in that," Sherman said.
If the case is returned to juvenile court, the attorney said he believes the state attorney would continue to prosecute Skakel's case, despite Benedict's prior statements.
"I know what he's said in the past, but I just don't believe it," Sherman said. "I think the pressure on Jonathan Benedict to proceed with this case in any form, and regardless of the penalties, will be too compelling."
Benedict could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Skakel's appeal of the transfer of his case was initially filed with the Appellate Court, but the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis after both the defense and prosecution agreed the appeal would end up in the highest court anyway.
Benedict has said he expects the high court to rule on the appeal by November.
Regardless of the appeal's outcome, the fate of Skakel's case is already in the hands of a trial judge.
After the transfer of Skakel's case to adult court, and following a probable cause hearing in April, Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. said there was enough evidence for Skakel's case to proceed to trial. Among that evidence was testimony from witnesses who said Skakel, while attending a substance abuse rehabilitation facility with them, confessed that he had bludgeoned Moxley with a golf club.
Last month, Kavanewsky heard arguments on several pre-trial motions, including one to dismiss the murder charge. The motion contends that when Moxley was killed, the state had a five-year statute of limitations for prosecution of all felony cases except those punishable by death.
"Mr. Skakel is not charged with a capital felony and therefore the five-year statute of limitations applies," attorney David Grudberg, a member of Skakel's defense team, told Kavanewsky at the Aug. 15 hearing.
Prosecutors countered that the General Assembly had never intended to place a time limit on the prosecution of murderers, and that it quickly corrected itself.
"As soon as (the legislature) realized it had created a gap, it closed the gap as it applies to statute of limitations," Benedict told the judge.
The 1973 law was amended in 1976 to eliminate statutes of limitations for the most serious of felonies, including murder.