STAMFORD, Conn. - A Juvenile Court judge found sufficient evidence Thursday to try Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel in the 1975 slaying of a neighbor girl, but ordered an investigation into whether the 39-year-old man should be tried as an adult or a juvenile.
Skakel is charged with murder in the death of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, who was bludgeoned with a golf club. The case is being handled for the time being in juvenile court because Skakel was 15 at the time.
After a hearing held in June, Judge Maureen Dennis ruled Thursday that enough evidence exists to try Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
But she ordered that a juvenile probation officer conduct an investigation before she rules on a prosecution request to transfer the case to adult court.
The decision on where Skakel will stand trial could make a big difference in the penalty he could face if found guilty.
If Skakel is convicted as an adult, he could get life in prison.
It is not clear what penalty Skakel could face as a juvenile, but some legal experts have said he could be spared any punishment at all. Under 1975 state law, juveniles convicted of murder were held in a juvenile facility and then freed when they became adults.
Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict said the investigation is nothing more than a formality.
''We are confident that she will be transferring the case to the adult court and that we will eventually be presenting the matter to a jury of Mr. Skakel's peers,'' he said.
Skakel attorney Michael Sherman said he is confident of the outcome, no matter which court ultimately hears the case.
''It's neither shocking nor terribly disturbing. I've always said and will continue to say we will get a fair trial and an acquittal, whether it be from a juvenile court judge or a jury,'' Sherman said.
The Skakels lived across the street from the Moxleys in Belle Haven, an exclusive gated community in Greenwich.
For years, authorities suspected Skakel's older brother, Thomas, then 17, in the killing. But no arrests were ever made, and the case stalled until a grand jury consisting of a single judge was appointed in 1998. In January, Michael Skakel was arrested based on the grand juror's findings.
Skakel as a young man attended the Elan School, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center in Maine. During the Juvenile Court hearing in June, two former Elan students testified that Skakel told them he had killed Martha. Investigators also said the 6-iron used in the crime was traced to a set owned by the Skakels.
Benedict has said Skakel should be tried as an adult because ''no Connecticut juvenile institution has the ability to deal in any way with a 39- or 40-year-old man.''