Lawyer for Kennedy cousin picks energy over experience as trial nears
(Court TV) -- Mickey Sherman, a flamboyant criminal defense lawyer and darling of the cable news networks, receives letters daily from wannabe legal eagles hoping to join the team defending Michael Skakel during the Kennedy cousin's upcoming murder trial.
But Sherman, who is based in Stamford, Connecticut, has a full roster. He drafted his 28-year-old son, Mark Sherman, this week to help with the mountain of details that have to be overcome before jury selection begins April 2.
Skakel, the 41-year-old nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Sr., is being tried as an adult for the 1975 murder of Greenwich, Connecticut, neighbor Martha Moxley. Both were 15 years old at the time.
Mark Sherman, who was 2 years old when Martha was brutally beaten and stabbed to death with a golf club linked to a set from the Skakel household, is not the only Generation Xer on team Skakel. Jason Throne, also 28, was recruited by Mickey Sherman soon after Skakel surrendered to authorities on Jan. 19, 2000, after learning of an arrest warrant.
"This is actually my first murder case. An interesting way to get your feet wet," Throne said during an interview. "To be honest with you, I don't feel overwhelmed. It is a challenge. I love Michael and I've gotten to know him over two years, making it even more exciting to be a part of it."
Headed by an image-conscious veteran known for warming up to juries, the young team has its work cut out for it. The defense will be trying to deflect any suggestion of guilt offered to the jury through testimony by a seasoned squad of prosecutors who maintain Skakel confessed to killing Martha while at a Maine reform school in the late 1970s.
Sitting at the prosecution table will be Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, Assistant State's Attorney Susan Gill and Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano. Prosecution investigator Frank Garr, whose involvement in the case started when he was a Greenwich police detective, will also be backing up the prosecution team in the courtroom.
So will this much-anticipated trial be a mismatch? That remains to be seen, of course. The prosecution team does have a wealth of experience, but it also has something Skakel does not — the burden of proving the charge beyond a reasonable and getting 12 jurors to agree unanimously.
A matter of trust
Mickey Sherman knows some pundits will question his decision to have two young lawyers at his side during the trial. He shrugs it off the way anyone who chooses the public spotlight learns to after awhile.
Sherman realizes he is a better communicator than organizer, so he picked two detail-oriented assistants for the important job of arranging exhibits and lining up witnesses. Organization becomes even important for a lawyer when defending a client against a charge stemming from a crime committed 26 years ago.
"[Mark's] a detail guy. I'm certainly a big picture person and I need someone to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed," Mickey Sherman said. "Jason bridges the gap between us."
Mark Sherman grew up in Stamford, went to local schools and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in English in 1995. He received his law degree in 1998 from Fordham Law School in New York, where he was president of the student government.
Mark Sherman worked from 1998 to 2000 for Prior Cashman Sherman & Flynn, a New York firm that specializes in entertainment and intellectual property law. From 2000 to last year, Sherman oversaw litigation as in-house counsel for a New York company that owned radio production companies.
He has never tried a murder case, but Mark Sherman said he is up to the challenge.
"I have been following the case closely for three or four years. I have been following the story in the papers since the '80s," said Mark Sherman, whose father was retained by Skakel in 1998. "I've met Michael [Skakel] and he's a great person. I really believe in his innocence and really believe we can do it."
Skakel could probably afford any legal team he wanted, but he wanted Mickey Sherman. And the affable, mince-no-words criminal defense specialist is placing a great amount of trust in his son and associates Throne and Stefan Seeger.
"Mickey's a superb attorney. All you have to do is see him perform on FOX, CNN and Court TV. He is well-regarded," said Benjamin Works, who grew up near the Skakels in the affluent enclave of Belle Haven and has known the family for 40 years. "It's clear he is a professional and knows the case inside out. I believe the family has every confidence in him."
During the trial, Sherman will do most of the talking — both in front of the jury and before the media pen being set up outside Norwalk Superior Court for the throng of reporters and photojournalists expected to cover the sensational case. Throne, who will sit in the second chair, will assist Sherman, prepare witnesses and may question some. Mark Sherman will also sit at the defense table and will keep track of exhibits, research motions and help schedule witnesses.
"Trust is really important in a case like this," said Mark Sherman, referring to the insatiable appetite of reporters for any tidbit about the Martha Moxley murder saga. "I think that's why my father has me and Jason working for him. Trust is a really big factor when it comes to who is going to be at the table."
Ron Fischetti, a New York lawyer who served as mentor to Mark Sherman, said the value of youthful energy and dedication to a cause should not be underestimated.
"I taught Mark at Fordham Law School and prior to that knew him as Mickey's son. He's extremely bright, extremely energetic and is a perfect fit for this trial," said Fischetti, who represents one of the former New York City police officers whose conviction in the Abner Louima police torture case was overturned recently.
"You want people that you can trust and people who believe in your client," Fischetti said. "I would go for dedicated and energetic people over seasoned people any day. Mickey is seasoned enough to handle the defense."
All in the family
Throne and Mark Sherman are new colleagues, but old friends. Throne graduated from the University of Florida School of Law in 1999 and became friends there with Sherman's future wife, Rachel, whose mother is a Broward County Family Court judge.
Throne worked in Mickey Sherman's law office during the summer of 1997 and was working for a firm in Florida for just nine days when he got a call from the elder Sherman in January 2000 requesting that he pack his bags.
"He said, 'Come on up here. Try the Skakel case with me,'" recalled Throne.
For his nuts-and-bolts legal research needs, Mickey Sherman will tap Seeger, a lawyer who rents space in his Stamford office suite.
"This ain't no 'Dream Team' but I see it as an effective one," said Mickey Sherman, referring to the high-price, big-name lawyers who won an acquittal for former NFL football great O.J. Simpson at his double-murder trial.
"I don't see it as a competition of resumes or experience," Sherman continued. "What is important is ability, interest and the will to prevail here. And most importantly, the one thing the four of us share is our belief in Michael Skakel."
Testimony is scheduled to begin May 7 and the trial is expected to last six weeks.
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