Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Martha Moxley Murder

Updates: March 1, 2001, to August 20, 2001

Change of Venue Sought

On March 1, 2001, according to a report from Greenwich Time Online, Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. heard arguments for holding the Michael Skakel trial either in Stamford or Bridgeport. He later reserved judgment and said he would issue a written decision prior to Skakel's April 18 probable cause hearing, after which a determination would be made on whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant the case going to trial at all.

The report also detailed Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susan Gill's reasons for transferring the case to Bridgeport:

"Bridgeport is where felonies throughout Fairfield County were prosecuted prior to the creation of the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District in October 1981. The case has a 'history' of being prosecuted in Bridgeport, since it was in that city's Fairfield County Courthouse where the grand jury, beginning in 1998, met for 18 months while probing the unsolved Greenwich murder. Parts of this case have already been adjudicated at the Bridgeport courthouse including open-court proceedings pertaining to confidentiality matters and similar issues concerning the grand jury investigation of the Moxley murder."

In response, Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, argued "statutes decree that the only valid reason for a change of venue is that the defendant's right to a fair trial is compromised by pre-trial publicity." He also said he believed the only reason the prosecution wanted the change was for convenience.

He further noted that a Superior Court judge had previously designated the Stamford courthouse as the site of the trial.

Despite assurances that his client would receive a fair trial no matter where the case is heard, he believed Skakel was more likely to be judged by a jury of his peers if tried in Stamford. He based his comments on a January 31 ruling handed down by Judge Maureen Dennis who stated that the Stamford courthouse is "the most appropriate venue at this time, in that the murder of Martha Moxley was committed in the town of Greenwich, which falls within the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk."

During the 40-minute hearing, the prosecution called a single witness, Steven Weiss, the supervisory assistant state's attorney in Stamford, who was chief court clerk when the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District was created. When cross-examined by Michael Sherman, Weiss stated that the practice of transferring cases involving crimes committed prior to October 1981 had been "an unwritten rule, rather than as the result of state law or codified policy." He stated that all decisions had been made by himself and Stamford State's Attorney Eugene Callahan but there had been no official documentation of them.

"The rule we came up with, if the offense was committed before October 1981, that case would go to Bridgeport if the arrest was made after October 1981." Weiss testified that under that rule, between four and seven cases were transferred from Stamford to Bridgeport. He said all of those transfers occurred within six months of the creation of the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District but he was unable to recall which cases they were.

Documents Released

On Tuesday, March 13 2001, the Greenwich Times Online reported that a 13-page arrest warrant, affidavit and other documents were unsealed by the courts on March 12. The documents contained the statements of six witnesses who attended the substance abuse treatment facility with Michael Skakel three years after Martha Moxley was murdered. The statements contain information that is similar to testimony provided during a preliminary hearing by two former residents of Elan school who claimed that Skakel had confessed to them that he killed Moxley with a golf club on the evening of October 31, 1975.

Amongst the 347 pages of court documents was an affidavit submitted by lead investigator Frank Garr who was a patrolman at the time of Moxley's death. It detailed an episode that occurred in about 1976, in which an unnamed Skakel employee told police he witnessed a loud argument between Rushton Skakel and a teenage Michael Skakel. Following the argument, Rushton allegedly ordered the employee to drive Michael to New York but when the employee got into the car, he saw that Michael Skakel was holding a knife.

The employee then asked Skakel why he was so upset. Skakel reportedly replied, "Shut up and drive, or I'll stab you".

The affidavit also details how a short time later, Skakel allegedly told the employee that he had "done something very bad and needed to get out of the country, and that he needed to kill himself."
Skakel then reportedly jumped from the vehicle. The employee later contacted Rushton Skakel, who instructed him to try to intercept Michael at his psychologist's office. The employee found Michael Skakel, drove him to his psychologist's office and waited nearly an hour.

A staff member at the office informed the employee that Skakel had fled. He was later found by staff and persuaded to return to the office where the employee met him and drove him home.

As the car crossed the Triborough Bridge on the return trip, Skakel reportedly jumped from the car and began to climb the bridge. In his statement to the police, the employee described how he was able to get Skakel back into the car only to have him jump out again and resume climbing the bridge. The affidavit does not detail any conversation with Skakel during this time.

No references were made in the affidavit to any fingerprints, footprints or blood samples that could, through advanced DNA testing, link Michael Skakel to the crime scene.

Commenting on the release of the documents, Michael Sherman said that he believed that the contents of the affidavit "showed that the prosecution's case was weak, as such affidavits in murder cases always referred to physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that directly linked the accused to the crime."

In response, Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney John Smriga replied that "it was only necessary for the prosecution to disclose enough information to show a judge probable cause for an arrest warrant to be granted, not to reveal all of the state's case." He did not say whether the state's case against Michael Skakel included any incriminating physical evidence.

The only evidence referred to in the arrest warrant affidavit was the weapon used to kill Moxley, which investigators linked to Skakel's family.

The unsealed documents also revealed that the first former rehab resident to report that Skakel had allegedly made incriminating statements was a woman who contacted Greenwich police in September 1980.

"This individual reported that while confined to Elan with Michael Skakel she had engaged in several conversations with him," the affidavit states. "She reported that during one of their conversations, Michael brought up the subject of Martha Moxley's murder. Michael informed this individual that the police were investigating him with regards to Martha's murder, and that at the time of the murder he had been drunk, and might have committed the murder during a blackout."

A second affidavit, obtained when the woman was re-interviewed years later, states: "Michael informed her that his parents were afraid that he had something to do with the murder and placed him in Elan to keep the police from arresting him."

Now that Skakel is being tried as an adult, a probable cause hearing must be heard to determine whether his case should proceed. The hearing is scheduled for April 18.

Judge Denies Court TV Request

On May 22, 2001 Superior Court Judge, John Kavanewsky Jr. denied a request made the previous month by Court TV General Counsel Douglas Jacobs to televise the trial. The decision was made after considering objections from the prosecution.

The day before, Michael Skakel's attorneys had filed several pre-trial motions in the state Superior Court in Stamford requesting the judge to order prosecutors to comply with 93 specific requests for information.

While some of these requests fell within the scope of material that the U.S. Supreme court has deemed that prosecutors have a duty to turn over to defendants, such as information that could potentially exonerate the defendant or mitigate the crimes, others were much more specific, including:

  • The names and addresses of witnesses who provided favorable information about Skakel
  • The terms under which witnesses were granted immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony
  • The names and addresses of other suspects, "in particular, Ken Littleton, Frank Wittine, Thomas Skakel and/or Edward Hammond."
  • Everything that was seized from other suspects, "such as clothing, linens, shoes, hair samples, blood samples, fibers, condoms, or any other items."
  • Tapes, writings and other records pertaining to Skakel's book proposal, which were taken from author Richard Hoffman
  • Treatment records of witnesses who were at the Elan School rehabilitation facility, where Skakel allegedly confessed to killing Moxley and a request that prosecutors would not be able to use testimony or privileged information from theses witnesses
  • Records of DNA and other forensic testing of physical evidence, along with the "reports, notes and/or any other statements" made by Dr. Henry Lee, the former state Commissioner of Public Safety and former director of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory, and eight other forensic experts who participated in examining evidence.

Motion to Dismiss

Skakel's attorneys also requested that murder charges against Skakel be dismissed because the statute of limitations of five years in felony cases in effect at the time of Moxley's death should apply to this case. A similar motion made by the defense was dismissed by Judge Maureen Dennis in the Juvenile Matters Division of the Superior Court because, she ruled, that the application cited legal justification for dismissal that was applicable only to adult defendants. An appeal of that decision is still pending with the State Appellate Court.

In response to the motion to dismiss, prosecutors have claimed that Skakel's attorneys misunderstood legislative history and court rulings of the state as murder prosecutions are not subject to any statute of limitations. In a separate filing they stated that they would not be calling any employees of the Elan School as witnesses, only residents.

The main areas of contention in the hearing will probably be over which information from the state's files the defense will be entitled to, although State's Attorney Jonathon Benedict stated that they had already agreed with 99% of the defense's requests and would only be arguing over the discoverability of a few items, such as the investigator's notes.

One motion presented by the prosecution to limit what defense attorneys could say to the media was not responded to by the defense who feels it is up to the judge to decide. Prosecutors also contend in their response motion that transfers from one court to another cannot be appealed, since appeals can only be made of a case's final disposition, such as when a guilty plea is entered or a jury returns a conviction.

Appeal Upheld

On May 24 the State Appellate Court upheld Skakel's right to contest the transfer of his case from the Juvenile Matters division of the Superior Court to the adult criminal division and set a hearing for September 2001, further delaying the case which may not go to trial until some time next year.

In July 2001, Skakel's legal machinations took on a new form when he filed a libel lawsuit against a The Greenwich Post, which ran a story quoting convicted felon, Sherman "Tad" Baldwin's accusation that Michael Skakel had taken part in the robbery of a hair salon in 1975.

Sherman filed the lawsuit in state Superior Court in Stamford, naming the paper, publisher Christopher Hagedorn, reporter Ken Borsuk and Baldwin as defendants and claiming that he had warned the paper in advance that the armed robbery allegation was false and that Baldwin was not a credible source. The lawsuit will contest that the printing of the story could taint the jury pool in Skakel's trial. It was only after the lawsuit was filed and Sherman had provided the paper with information about the Baldwin's lack of credibility, that the paper printed a retraction.

Despite The Greenwich Post's withdrawal of support, Tad Baldwin declared his intention not only to counter-sue Skakel for the lawsuit filed, but also that he would file a separate libel suit against Sherman, claiming: "I have been repeatedly slandered by Mickey Sherman with lies and personal attacks."

Frank Garr, the state's lead investigator in the case, has said that Baldwin once confused the investigation by falsely claiming that Skakel had not murdered Moxley and that he knew who the real killer was. Baldwin strongly denied this claim.

Supreme Court Appeal — Key Witness Dies

In mid-July, proceedings in Skakel's case were speeded up when his attorneys agreed with a motion by prosecutors to bypass the state Appellate Court and send the appeal of a lower court's ruling to transfer Skakel's case from a juvenile court to an adult court directly to Connecticut's highest court, the Supreme Court. Two weeks later the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal.

Prosecutors faced another challenge in their case against Michael Skakel early in August when one of their key witnesses died. Gregory Coleman, 39, an admitted heroin addict who had testified he heard Skakel confess to killing Moxley, died in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.

Coleman was the second witness for the prosecution's case against Skakel to have died in the same year. The other was Joseph Ricci, owner of a substance-abuse rehabilitation facility in Maine where Coleman said he heard Skakel confess to killing Moxley. He died of cancer in January.

In his probable-cause hearing testimony this year, Coleman admitted that he had injected himself with heroin prior to appearing before the grand jury in 1998, in an attempt to explain why he gave conflicting prior testimony about having heard Skakel confess.

Ricci appeared before the grand jury in 1998, but the details of his testimony are unknown because the transcripts are sealed. In subsequent interviews, Ricci has denied he heard Skakel make incriminating statements.

Sherman claimed that the prosecution's plan to present a jury with the transcript of testimony from a now-deceased witness would jeopardize Michael Skakel's right to a fair trial and would consider filing a pretrial motion to block it.

Despite Rochester police statements that Coleman's death was apparently caused by a drug overdose, one of a number that week resulting from a batch of bad drugs in the area, conspiracy theorists were quick to proclaim stories of involvement by Skakel's defense team.

Skakel's prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, said there was nothing about Coleman's death that would make him conduct his own investigation.

Some Pre-Trial Issues Resolved

The hearing on pre-trial motions was conducted in the state Superior Court on August 16, 2001 before Judge Kavanewsky, Jr.

The issues resolved during the hearing included:

  • Skakel was ordered to provide a formal alibi for the night of Moxley's murder within 20 days of the hearing even though the judge rejected a defense motion asking prosecutors to supply a more exact time of death than that placed at between 9:30 p.m. when Moxley left the Skakel home and 5:00 a.m. when her body was found.
  • Kavanewsky denied a defense request for information regarding an alleged book deal for someone on the prosecution team stating that such issues can be raised at the trial.
  • The prosecution was ordered to give the defense a list of witnesses it plans to call from the Elan School.
  • A defense request for psychiatric records of prosecution witnesses, including Elan students was rejected because they could be requested during the trial.
  • A defense motion seeking copies of video and audio tapes of the polygraph test of former suspect Kenneth Littleton, the Moxley family's tutor, was denied. Littleton had been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his 1998 testimony to the grand jury. Sherman argued that as Littleton had failed 3 polygraph examinations, the tapes could provide exculpatory evidence.
  • A defense request for information from prosecutors that included the names and addresses of every person interviewed during the almost 26-year-old investigation was denied.
  • The judge declined to set a trial date because of the pending state Supreme Court appeal that could damage the prosecutions case.
  • Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. said that he would rule soon on the pretrial motions. The state Supreme Court is expected to render its decision by November.

Watching and Waiting

Attorney Emanuel Margolis has been watching the proceedings in the Michael Skakel case with great interest. His client, Michael Skakel's older brother Thomas had been considered the main suspect by police for much of the nearly 26 years since 15-year-old Martha Moxley was killed outside her Greenwich home. One month after Michael's arrest, Margolis claimed that Thomas had been cleared but this was refuted by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who said at the time, "This office has done nothing to suggest that anybody has been cleared in this matter. This investigation, like all my investigations, is active until it is concluded in court."

Margolis said yesterday that it was statements such as this that caused him to keep close tabs on the case. Another concern for him is the fact that Thomas was not called as a witness in the grand jury hearing despite the fact that he was the last person known to have seen Moxley alive. If he had appeared he would have been granted immunity from future prosecution in return for his testimony.

Thomas was originally a suspect in the case because he had been with Moxley just prior to her death and made up a story about a non-existent homework assignment to explain his whereabouts after he left her.

Thomas Skakel cast further suspicion on himself in recent years, when he disclosed to private investigators that he lied to police during questioning in 1975. According to a report by the investigators, Thomas Skakel had gone much further than flirting with the victim, having had a sexual encounter with her that night.

Benedict said that no further arrests are contemplated in the case.

An Important Decision

The motion to dismiss because of a statute of limitations was heard by State Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. in mid-August. Prosecutors cited a state Supreme Court ruling against Anthony Golino, arrested in 1984 for a murder committed in 1973 while a statute of limitations was in effect.

Skakel's lawyers counter-argued that the Golino ruling did not apply to this case, as at that time, all murders potentially qualified for capital punishment.

Even experts are divided on the validity of both side's claims.

Kavanewsky Jr. is weighing his decision.

While Skakel's lawyers are mindful of the outrage that would follow Michael Skakel, a defendant from a wealthy, connected family avoiding a trial on what might be perceived as a technicality, Sherman pointed out that: "...the law is the law"

 

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