December 3, 1999
By Peter Moore - Greenwich Post
Another Kennedy trial - with the requisite media frenzy - may now be just a matter of time, because if Michael Skakel is charged with Martha Moxley's 1975 murder he will not accept a plea bargain, according to his attorney, Michael Sherman.
"Let me take some of the mystery out of it right Sherman said Monday. "There will be no plea bargains, period. This is not a plea-bargain case. Michael Skakel is innocent.
"If he's arrested, an event which I don't believe will happen, there will be I trial," Sherman added.
A one-man Bridgeport grand jury assigned to the case is scheduled to conclude its investigation on December 10. The grand juror, Bridgeport Superior Court George Thim, has 60 days from the investigation's conclusion to release his findings.
A plea bargain would avoid the ordeal of a trial, which would culminate a murder investigation that is more than 24 years old. Bill Dunlap, a
Quinnipiac College law professor, said Monday that it seemed illogical that Sherman would urge Skakel, a nephew of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, to plead guilty to a crime that he claims to be innocent of.
But another Quinnipiac law professor, Martin Margulies, awarded the idea of a Skakel plea bargain some merit.
"You always consider a plea bargain if it's available," Margulies said. But in order to know the best possible decision, Margulies added, an expert would have to know the case backwards and forwards.
"Ultimately it's got to be the client's decision."
But just as important, argued Dunlap, are the circumstances of the case. "The question should be whether or not the defense lawyer thinks he can get an acquittal," Dunlap ' said. "Having somebody plea-bargain to a crime he didn't commit in, order to avoid a nasty trial would be totally inappropriate."
Dunlap added that an attorney will usually respect his or her client's wishes in regards to pleas. But he also said that h plea bargain may not even be allowed by a court if a client maintains his or her innocence'
"In the long run, it's a question of what a client wants to do," Dunlap said. All the defense lawyer can do is advise the client. But in most courts would not accept a guilty plea from a client who says he did not actually commit the crime even if the confession or plea bargain is designed to get him a lower punishment than the evidence might suggest he would otherwise get.
"Most courts would require that [the accused] ... stand up and say exactly what he did," Dunlap added. This condition, the professor added, would apply whether the bargain involved a plea of guilty to a lesser charge, such as manslaughter, or a guilty plea to a more serious murder charge in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Michael Skakel, 15 at the time of Martha Moxley's murder, and his older brother Thomas are both suspects in the Oct. 30, 1975 killing. The 15-year-old Belle Haven girl was found the next afternoon, having been beaten to death with a six iron golf club, which was traced to the Skakels' nearby residence. There has never been an arrest in the case, but a one-man Bridgeport grand jury was convened last year and is expected to wrap up its investigation next month.
Though grand jury proceedings are strictly confidential, court records have indicated that prosecutors are focusing on Michael Skakel as the primary suspect in the killing. Several former residents and staff of Elan, a Maine treatment center where Skakel was sent for alcohol abuse in 1978, have been called to the Bridgeport courthouse to testify. However a recent court ruling allows only the testimony of former Elan residents to be admissible as the testimony of staff has been determined to be protected by doctor-patient privilege.
Dunlap said he could not comment on the level of credibility the court will attribute to the testimony of former Elan residents.
"This is all highly speculative, and nobody's been indicted yet," he said.