Skakel To Be Tried As an Adult

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Kennedy family nephew Michael Skakel will be tried as an adult for the 1975 murder of teen-ager Martha Moxley, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The case had been heard in juvenile court because of Skakel's age at the time of the slaying in an exclusive gated community in Greenwich. Both victim and suspect were 15.

But Judge Maureen Dennis ruled that adult court was the proper venue for the trial, in part because the state has no juvenile facility where it could send Skakel, now 40, if he is convicted.

Under state law, a juvenile found delinquent can be committed to a state youth facility or a hospital or other institution. State facilities cannot accept anyone over the age of 18, and commitment to a mental institution would not be appropriate in this case, Dennis said.

``The court further finds that the facilities of the adult criminal division of the Superior Court afford and provide a more effective setting for the disposition of this case,'' Dennis wrote.

Skakel's lawyer, Michael Sherman, did not immediately return a message left at his office. Skakel's whereabouts were not immediately known.

Skakel has maintained his innocence. As a juvenile, the maximum penalty he could receive under the law in effect in 1975 is four years. For adults, the law sets a range of a minimum of 10 years to life in prison.

Moxley was killed on Oct. 30, 1975, after an evening of pre-Halloween fun with a group of teen-age friends, including Skakel and his older brother, Thomas, then 17. Her body was found the next day on her family's estate in Greenwich.

The Skakel family lived across the street in the Belle Haven community. Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel Sr., is the brother of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.

The 6-iron golf club used in the killing was matched to a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family.

No arrests were made in the case for more than 24 years. Skakel was charged last January following an investigation by a one-judge grand jury.

Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict had said he would consider dropping the case unless it was transferred to adult court. He said Skakel would face such a small penalty in juvenile court that it may not be worth the trauma to Moxley's family.

Frank Garr, an inspector office who has investigated the case for 25 years, said prosecutors were pleased with the decision.

``We anticipated it,'' he said. ``It is the court where it should be, and we're ready to proceed.''

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

Dennis had ruled there was probable cause to allow the case against Skakel to continue, but she considered for months the question of where he should be tried.

Separately, the judge refused to act on a motion to dismiss the charges, based on the statute of limitations. Because the case is being moved to adult court, where Skakel has not yet been formally charged, any motion based on the statute of limitations is premature, she said.