Jury selection begins in long-awaited trial of Kennedy cousin
NORWALK, Connecticut -- Two jurors were seated Tuesday for the long-awaited murder trial of Ethel Kennedy's nephew, Michael Skakel.
A 40-something man who described himself as an investment officer for a startup company and a woman who appeared to be in her 30s were the first panel members selected as this highly anticipated case opened to widespread media attention.
Lawyers aim to pick 12 jurors and four alternates who will be asked not to be swayed by the fact that Skakel, now 41, is a member of one of the nation's most-famous families.
Jurors are being screened in groups of about 25, and at the close of the court day Tuesday, several men and women from the initial pool of Fairfield County, Connecticut, residents were excused by state Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr.
One man said he had a hearing loss; another has trouble speaking English; others had child-care issues. Four of the 13 people excused complained that it would create a severe hardship for them or their businesses if they were to be on a jury for the five weeks the trial is expected to last.
The man who was selected -- names of the jurors are not released -- made it clear he did not want to serve. The man, who appeared to be in his 40s, said he had just started a job with a company that opened for business Monday.
Skakel, who was charged in January 2000 with the murder of his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley, 26 years ago last October, walked through a sea of video and still cameras waiting to capture his arrival at Norwalk Superior Court Tuesday morning.
"Good morning, how are you?" Skakel, 41, said to two courthouse marshals as he entered the courthouse, ignoring reporters clamoring for a comment. Inside Kavanewsky's courtroom, Skakel greeted a few faces he recognized in the crowd.
It is here that prosecutors will try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Skakel killed Martha Moxley on October 30, 1975, in their affluent Greenwich, Conn., neighborhood. Moxley's badly bludgeoned body was found by a friend on her family's three-acre estate.
Prosecutors believe Skakel used a six-iron from his late mother's monogrammed golf club set to crush her skull. Skakel allegedly confessed he killed Moxley to classmates at a Maine reform school in the late 1970s.
Skakel, who has been out on bail since his 2000 arrest, lost a bid to have the case remain in juvenile court. He has pleaded not guilty, denying any involvement in Moxley's slaying.
The case has generated widespread publicity and inspired a television mini-series and best-selling books, including one by celebrity crime writer Dominick Dunne and another by former O.J. Simpson detective Mark Fuhrman.
More than 70 news organizations have reserved seats in the trial gallery.
By law, the prosecution and defense each get 18 peremptory challenges -- meaning they can dismiss a potential juror without giving a reason. So far, the prosecution has used two challenges, the defense one.
The prosecution noted while questioning several prospective jurors that the complaint alleges that Moxley was killed between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. Benedict asked several if they could find Skakel guilty even if the exact time of the assault could not be pinned down.
The defense is expected to argue that numerous reports about incessantly barking dogs in Belle Haven, where the murder occurred, suggests that the assault occurred about 10 p.m. -- when Skakel claims he was at the home of his cousin, James Terrien.
Terrien's name was among 21 who may called by the defense later. The list, read in court by Skakel's lawyer, Mickey Sherman, also includes: Courtney Kennedy, daughter of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy; her husband, Paul Hill, who was jailed as a suspected Irish Republican Army terrorist for 15 years before a British court ruled his confession was fabricated; Edward Fleischl, a veterinarian from Pound Ridge, New York; several of Skakel's siblings; and, Jack Solomon, a former state investigator who pursued the Skakel's live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton, as a possible suspect early in the Moxley investigation.
The prosecution's list, read by Benedict, includes: Littleton, who has immunity from prosecution; the former babysitter of the late Michael Kennedy, who was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with her; the Skakel family's former driver; and, numerous police officers and relatives of both Martha and Michael Skakel. Thomas Skakel, the defendant's brother, will be called by the prosecution. For years, he was a prime suspect by virtue of the fact that he was the last person known to have been with Martha when she alive.
Prosecutors declined comment and said they would not comment about any aspect of the case now that the trial has begun. Skakel's lawyer, however, is known to enjoy the spotlight and was surrounded by journalists both in and outside the courthouse.
"Mickey, how are you going to find jurors who are sympathetic to Michael Skakel?" a voice in the crowd asked.
"I don't care if they're sympathetic to Michael Skakel," Sherman shot back tersely. "I just want them to be fair to Michael Skakel."
Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, and brother, John, did not attend court on Tuesday but are expected on Wednesday. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has told reporters that he and several of Michael Skakel's Kennedy cousins will attend the proceedings at some point.
Jury selection was scheduled to resume Wednesday. Testimony begins May 7.
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