Skakel case stalled a year after his arrest

STAMFORD, Conn. - For Dorthy Moxley, this year started out with renewed hope for justice: after nearly 25 years, a suspect was arrested in her young daughter's murder.

Michael Skakel, a member of the Kennedy clan, was charged in January in the slaying of 15-year-old Martha Moxley.

But as the year comes to an end, the case has moved no closer to trial.

A judge is still deciding whether Skakel, who was also 15 in 1975, should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.

''It has been frustrating,'' Moxley said. ''It's frustrating and stressful, but if this is the way it has to be, then this is the way it has to be.''

If Skakel is tried as an adult, state law, as it stood in 1975, set a range of 10 years to life in prison. If he is tried as a juvenile, the maximum penalty he could receive under 1975 law is four years.

Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict has said he may drop the case if the Judge Maureen Dennis decides to keep it in juvenile court. He argues that because Skakel would face either a small penalty or no penalty at all, a trial may not be worth the trauma it could cause the Moxley family.

Since the state has no juvenile facilities to incarcerate 40-year-old man, Skakel could conceivably face no prison time, Benedict said.

''To present the case at a trial in juvenile court ... would leave the court with no recourse upon a finding of guilty,'' Benedict said.

But Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, said alternative incarceration programs exist that could be used for Skakel if he were convicted.

Although 1975 law allowed prosecutors to seek transfers to adult court of murder cases involving defendants 14 and older, the state has never had a case where so much time has elapsed between a juvenile crime and an arrest.

''This is highly unusual and a difficult case for all the parties. It brings up issues that were never contemplated when the juvenile laws were written,'' said Cathy Edwards, the supervisory juvenile prosecutor in New Haven, Conn.

In 1995, a law was passed making all many serious felony charges for juveniles 14 and over subject to automatic transfer to adult court.

''It's easy to transfer (now), but if a case predates that law, we have similar problems as with the Skakel case,'' Edwards said.

Many states other than Connecticut also are not equipped to try adults who allegedly committed crimes when they were juveniles.

''Normally when you get to the question of a transfer of a juvenile to adult court, the issue that's looked at is: Is the accused susceptible to rehabilitation through the juvenile system?'' said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. ''Obviously, when you're dealing with someone who is a juvenile at the time the offense is committed and is now an adult, you don't even have that issue.''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment