By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer, Greenwich Time
He was scheduled to appear before the Bridgeport grand jury Friday in answer to a Connecticut subpoena. Two of his sons, nephews of the late Robert Kennedy, are considered suspects in the murder. But the 4th District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach, Fla., yesterday granted him a stay pending a review of his case.
The appeals court will review a lower court's decision last month ordering Skakel to answer the subpoena. Martin County Judge John Fennelly presided over a hearing in October in which Skakel's attorneys unsuccessfully argued that Skakel should not be made to testify because his declining physical and mental health made him an incompetent witness. Fennelly upheld the subpoena and ordered Skakel to travel from his Hobe Sound, Fla., home to Bridgeport to give testimony.
Skakel's lawyers on Monday filed an emergency motion for the stay and filed a notice of intent to appeal. A hearing date has yet to be set on the appeal. "When we heard that the motion for an emergency stay was going to be filed, at that point we assumed we wouldn't see him on Friday," Inspector Frank Garr, the lead investigator on the Moxley case for the State's Attorneys office, said yesterday. Garr, who has been critical of the Skakel family, which he has said has been uncooperative with investigators, called the action "another stall" by the family.
But Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, who represents Michael Skakel, one of the two sons suspected in the murder, said he was pleased with the Florida court. "I'm happy that the court will take the appropriate amount of time to consider all the issues and not just rubber-stamp the subpoena as everyone thought they might," Sherman said yesterday.
Sherman surmised that in Skakel's appeal of the lower Florida court's decision to send him to testify, judges would consider three issues: whether Skakel is mentally competent, whether traveling to Connecticut represents an undue hardship and whether he potentially has something substantial to contribute to the investigation.
Michael Skakel and his older brother Thomas are suspects in the murder, which occurred Oct. 30, 1975. The 15-year-old Moxley was beaten and stabbed to death with a 6-iron that matched a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family, her neighbors. The brothers, who were 15 and 17 at the time, have maintained their innocence.
Garr said he does not view the delay in hearing testimony from the senior Skakel as a setback in the case. "These are things we anticipated could happen and we'll just deal with them as they come."
The grand jury's initial six-month mandate to investigate the murder expires this month, but the State's Attorneys office has reportedly applied to the state's chief court administrator for a six-month extension.