Kennedy Nephew Arraigned

Wednesday, February 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The murder case against Kennedy nephew Michael Skakel shifted formally to adult court Wednesday with a brief arraignment.

Skakel spoke only once to say he fully understood his rights during the five minute hearing before Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. He did not enter a plea. If convicted, Skakel could be sentenced to life in prison.

Skakel is charged in the October 1975 beating death of his Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley. Both Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time, and the case had been in juvenile court until a judge ruled last month that it should be transferred to adult court.

Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, has appealed that decision, a move that could have delayed Wednesday's arraignment. But Sherman said Skakel, who has maintained his innocence, did not want ``needless delays.''

``He wants this resolved,'' Sherman said Tuesday. But the appeal continues and Sherman said he reserved the right to request a stay of the case later on.

Sherman told the judge that Skakel wants a probable cause hearing, in which a judge determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. Kavanewsky scheduled that hearing for April 18.

Skakel has already been arraigned and had a probable cause hearing in juvenile court, where Judge Maureen Dennis found there was enough evidence to continue. But he must now repeat the process in adult court.

Moxley and Skakel lived next door to Skakel in an exclusive gated community. Her body was found on her family's estate on Oct. 31, 1975.

Authorities concluded Moxley was brutally beaten with a golf club that was matched to a set owned by the Skakel family. Skakel is the son of Rushton Skakel Sr., the brother of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.

No arrests in the case were made until January 2000, when Skakel was charged after an investigation by a one judge grand jury.

Kavanewsky had also been scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on Sherman's request to move the trial from Stamford to Bridgeport. But he delayed that hearing until Feb. 28 after prosecutors said they had not received a defense brief on the issue until late Tuesday afternoon.

Dennis ruled last month that the case should be tried in Stamford, which borders Greenwich, where the crime was committed. Stamford is the seat of the judicial district that includes Greenwich.

But prosecutor Jonathan Benedict argued in court papers that the case should be moved because in 1975 all major crimes in the area were handled in Bridgeport Superior Court.

Some attorneys not involved in the case have said Skakel may be better off facing trial in Stamford, where jury members from wealthy communities in the area may identify with his wealth and privilege. Bridgeport has a largely blue-collar population.