Skakel report given to judge
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

The question of whether Michael Skakel should stand trial for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley should be answered at any time now.

Sources have disclosed that a report from a court-ordered background investigation has been delivered to the presiding judge, who must decide if Skakel, 40, will be tried as an adult for the crime he allegedly committed when he was 15.

Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman, yesterday confirmed that the report has been submitted to Juvenile Matters division Judge Maureen Dennis, but said he was bound by juvenile court rules from disclosing the report's contents.

"Yes, I saw it last week," he said of the report that Dennis ordered on Aug. 17, the same day the judge released her ruling that there is probable cause to believe Skakel murdered his 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor on Oct. 30, 1975.

Sherman declined to say even in general terms whether the report is favorable to his client.

"I won't characterize it one way or the other," he said.

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict has said that he probably would decline to prosecute should the case remain in juvenile court, because even if Skakel were to be convicted, he could not be sentenced to prison.

Under 1975 law, which has governed Skakel's case since his Jan. 19 arrest, youthful offenders were not convicted of specific crimes, but were found to be juvenile delinquents in need of rehabilitation. As an adult, Skakel would not be accepted into any of the state's juvenile rehabilitation programs.

Benedict could not be reached for comment yesterday. In a previous interview, however, he said he fully expects Skakel's case will be transferred to Superior Court.

"I have a difficult time imagining what factors could suggest that the matter be kept in juvenile court," Benedict said in August.

Sherman also has said he expects his client's case will be transferred.

Dennis' finding of probable cause resulted from several days of a hearing in June. At the end of the hearing, she deemed as credible several witnesses who testified they had heard Skakel confess to murdering Moxley years after the crime while they and Skakel were residents of a substance abuse treatment facility.

In her memorandum of decision, Dennis ruled that rebuttal witnesses who testified in Skakel's defense failed to refute the prosecution's witnesses.

Once she made her finding, Dennis was required under juvenile court rules to order a juvenile probation officer to conduct a background investigation on Skakel. The probation officer's report will be used by Dennis to address criteria - as set forth by the law as it existed in 1975 - for transferring a juvenile's case to adult court.

To transfer the case, Dennis must find that "there is no state institution designed for the care and treatment of children" to which Skakel could be sent if convicted, or that the "safety of the community requires" Skakel to be incarcerated. The judge also must find that Superior Court is the more "effective setting" for Skakel's case, and that prison is more appropriate for Skakel's "care or treatment."

If the case is transferred, a new probable cause hearing will be scheduled in adult court.

Dennis' ruling on the court venue issue is expected any day now, as she is required by law to decide by Oct. 26, or 120 days from the June 28 conclusion of the probable cause hearing on the charges against Skakel. Her decision cannot be appealed.

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