Court hears Skakel's appeal
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

HARTFORD - The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday to help them decide whether 41-year-old Michael Skakel will be tried as an adult for allegedly killing Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley when he was 15 years old.

Arguing for Skakel, New Haven attorney David Grudberg told the panel of five justices that Juvenile Court Judge Maureen Dennis was wrong in January when she ordered Skakel's case transferred out of juvenile court, where he had been arraigned after his arrest a year earlier.

Grudberg took the juvenile court judge to task, stating, "We think the main flaw in the analysis of the juvenile court decision is it was based simply on age. Mr. Skakel had no control over when this prosecution was initiated."

In her ruling, Dennis said Skakel must be tried in adult court because, if convicted as a juvenile, there are no juvenile facilities that could accommodate him.

"There really is no other reasonable conclusion the court could come to," Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gil, arguing for the prosecution, told the Supreme Court justices yesterday.

Associate Justice Richard Palmer appeared to agree with the lower court's decision, stating, "It's not clear to me why it's wrong that someone who is 40 doesn't belong in (a juvenile) facility."

But if Skakel had been arrested, tried and convicted shortly after Moxley's death, Grudberg said, it is likely the state would have sought rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

"It's critically important to keep in mind the purpose and goals of the juvenile justice system," Grudberg said. "The juvenile justice system, as it existed in 1975, was not about punishment."

The attorney's comments prompted Chief Justice William Sullivan to remark, "My experience in 1975 was punishment had a lot to do with the disposal of juvenile cases."

When Moxley was killed, the law allowed juveniles as young as 14 to be tried as adults.

Skakel, nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, lived near Moxley in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich 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.

Benedict yesterday said he would decide whether to proceed after the court decides on the appeal, but he expressed confidence that the appeal would be rejected.

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.

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. The 1973 law was amended in 1976 to eliminate statutes of limitations for the most serious of felonies, including murder.

Both sides also argued yesterday over the timing of the appeal. Skakel's lawyers say they have a right to an immediate appeal.

Prosecutors say an appeal is not allowed until after a verdict is reached.

The Supreme Court justices gave no indication when they would rule.

Lead defense attorney Michael Sherman said he expects the court to take two months to issue a decision.

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