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Burden of Proof

Murder in Greenwich: Michael Skakel's Attorney Discusses the Case

Aired August 28, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, a quarter century after a brutal murder in Greenwich, Connecticut, a 39-year-old former neighbor faces a murder trial. But will Michael Skakel be tried as an adult or as a juvenile?

Plus, the parents of JonBenet Ramsey agree to meet with Boulder Police. Colorado officials call it an interview. The Ramseys' lawyer calls it an interrogation.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Before we turn to the Michael Skakel murder trial in Connecticut, we want to bring you up to date in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. For the first time in two years, John and Patsy Ramsey are meeting with police answering questions about the 1996 murder of their daughter, JonBenet.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Seven members of the Boulder Police Department are in Atlanta for the meeting, including police chief Mark Beckner.

To bring us up to date on today's developments, we turn to CNN correspondent Brian Cabell, who's outside the offices of Lin Wood, attorney for the Ramseys.

Brian, how long has the deposition been going on and how long are they expected to continue?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those are a couple of different questions. First of all, it's been going on for about three hours, we figure. They started around 9:00 Eastern this morning, and how long it will continue, we don't know. They say perhaps all day, perhaps into tomorrow morning, as a matter of fact.

We know they started with Patsy; that was their demand. The Colorado authorities demanded that they speak to Patsy. After they finish with her, then she will retire to another room. And then John will come forward, they will talk to him.

Inside the conference room, it will be the -- either Patsy or John with their attorney and possibly with a family investigator facing an array of seven prosecutors and investigators firing them questions, firing at will.

As for the Ramseys, they arrived here this morning. They looked relaxed and they said they have absolutely nothing to hide.

VAN SUSTEREN: Brian, what are the goals of the respective sides? I mean, what do the police from Colorado expect to get out of this and what do the Ramseys expect to get out of this?

CABELL: Well, the police certainly hope to have some answers, either number one, to point a finger directly at the Ramseys -- they admit they're under an umbrella of suspicion. They either hope to get some evidence against them or possibly -- and this is what the Ramseys are hoping -- find some evidence that will point to someone else. And clearly, the Ramseys are saying that's what should happen here. They want that finger of suspicion pointed away from them after 3 1/2 years. And, of course, incidentally, they would also like to have their name clear and their reputation cleared. But most of all, they say they want the person who killed their daughter to be arrested.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, the questioning is expected to last two days. Thanks to Brian Cabell in Atlanta who's sitting outside Lin Wood's offices. Of course, he's the lawyer for the Ramseys.

We're going to turn our focus now to a different homicide, one committed nearly 25 years ago in Greenwich, Connecticut. Fifteen- year-old Martha Moxley was found beaten to death on her parents' lawn in October of 1975.

This month, a Connecticut judge ruled there was, quote, "reasonable cause for Moxley's former neighbor, Michael Skakel, to stand trial."


DOROTHY MOXLEY, MARTHA MOXLEY'S MOTHER: I'm going to be happy. I'm going to experience whatever it is I'm going to -- you know, the ultimate when I can see an indictment, a trial, a conviction.

VAN SUSTEREN (voice-over): In the fall of 1975, the Moxley family lived in an exclusive gated community in Greenwich. But the supposed security of the privileged neighborhood could not shield the Moxleys from tragedy. On October 30th, the body of 15-year-old Martha was found just outside the family home. She had been badly beaten, prosecutors say, by a golf club.

For many years, Greenwich authorities suspected Thomas Skakel, whose family lived across the street from the Moxleys. At the time of Martha's murder, Thomas was 17 years old. Charges were never brought against Thomas Skakel.

FRANK GARR, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR MOXLEY MURDER CASE: The two biggest obstacles that we faced from day one with this investigation was, first, a lack of physical evidence; and second, cooperation from the Skakel family. VAN SUSTEREN: Twenty-three years after Martha's death in 1998, a one-judge grand jury was appointed to reexamine the facts of the case. Based on the findings of that probe, Thomas' younger brother, Michael, was arrested last January. He, like Martha, was just 15 years old at the time of the murder.

Still undecided: Will Skakel, now 39, face trial as a juvenile or as an adult?

MICKEY SHERMAN, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL SKAKEL: There's got to be evidence. There's got to be confessions. There has to be forensic evidence. There has to be witnesses. The fact that you have people some 22 years later calling in "Unsolved Mysteries" or other shows saying, "You know, I think I remember about 18 years ago I heard somebody say something," I don't know that that's going to measure up to what a jury wants to hear.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from New York is the defense attorney for Michael Skakel, Mickey Sherman. And in Hartford, Connecticut, we're joined by former federal prosecutor Jeremiah Donovan.

COSSACK: And here in Washington, Phil Filsu (ph); former federal prosecutor Marty Rogers; and Jeff Claman (ph). And in the back, Glenda Simmons (ph) and Scott Ralph (ph).

Mickey, let's go right to you. You have now had a day in court. The judge has decided that there's enough evidence to bring your client to trial. But the issue left remaining is where will this -- where will your client go to trial and what kind of trial will he receive. Your thoughts.

SHERMAN: Well, you know, it was no great shocker that the judge found reasonable cause. A judge had already signed an arrest warrant finding probable cause and they just needed a bare threshold to be reached before finding this reasonable cause, whatever that may be. Obviously, I disagree with that finding but I'll trust his fate and the case to a jury or a judge when there's a full trial.

With respect to the second issue, is it going to be in the juvenile court? The judge has ordered a report pursuant to the statute. And I wish I could tell you what that means or what's going to happen there, but there's been a lot of twist and turns in this case that no one can predict.

COSSACK: Well, the problem is, as I understand it -- and you can articulate further on this -- is that the crime was committed, you know, 25 years ago when your client would have been a juvenile. But now he gets arrested for this crime and he's clearly an adult. How do you try someone way adult age in a juvenile court? But that seems to be what the law requires.

SHERMAN: I don't believe that that's what the lawyer requires. The law allows the state to seek to transfer a juvenile's case to an adult court if they believe that this young person, this juvenile needs supervision beyond his 21st birthday. They try to look into the future to see whether or not this young person, if he in fact may have committed the crime, if he did, that this person needs to be supervised. The public has to be guarded from him and he needs some supervision.

Well, you know, we know what the answer to that is. It's been 25 years since this alleged offense and he hasn't gotten in any trouble. So we've already seen the future, it's behind us. So to me, it's a no-brainer. So there's no compelling reason to send it to the adult court but I think everyone just has a problem with the fact that he's now 40 years old.

And one thing, not to hog up all the time, Roger, but one thing you have to remember is it's not Michael Skakel's fault that they took 25 years to arrest him. He hasn't been hiding in Sweden. He hasn't been running from the law. And he did cooperate -- as his family is alleged not to have -- his family did cooperate with authorities for three months. They allowed the police to basically work out of their home three months after the murder in spite of what Detective Garr said at the front of this program.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me go to Marty and I'm going to pose the same question to you, Jeremiah. As a former prosecutor, you've got this quandary, you've got this 39-year-old man who technically, in the traditional sense, is not within a juvenile jurisdiction, Marty. As a prosecutor, a tactical standpoint, which would you prefer? Which way do you want the judge to go? Do you want to try him as an adult or as a juvenile, because either way, it might get reversed?

MARTY ROGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right. But as a prosecutor, I would want to try him as an adult. It does permit -- the courts do permit to do it either way but it is sort of ludicrous to have this 40-year-old man in a juvenile court, particularly when -- as a prosecutor, you would like an adult punishment to be given if he is, in fact, convicted.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jeremiah, let me...

COSSACK: Marty, let me just follow up. Isn't that punishing him for something that he had no control over? I mean, as Mickey Sherman points out, it's not his fault that they arrested him 25 years later.

ROGERS: No, it isn't his fault. And, you know, they have statutes of limitations in other crimes. Murder, however, goes on and on. And so it took them 25 years, they believe, to solve the crime. I'm not so sure that they have the right person but if I were the prosecutor, I would want him prosecuted in federal court with the jury so that he would at least be eligible...

VAN SUSTEREN: You mean adult court.

COSSACK: Adult court.

ROGERS: Adult punishment. For adult court, sorry. VAN SUSTEREN: Jeremiah, what would you prefer as a prosecutor? I mean, you've got this bizarre situation of a 39-year-old man. You can't have him standing in a juvenile facility with his colleagues coming up to his knees, practically.

JEREMIAH DONOVAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the problem is, is the great question as to whether there's any punishment that the juvenile court can impose upon him. He's over 21 and so there's really no punishment. So in juvenile court, maybe we'll get a resolution of his guilt or innocence but there's no real resolution of the case because there's no punishment imposed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there someone to be blamed, Jeremiah, for this? Is this a problem? I mean, frankly, looking at this situation -- I don't know whether he's guilty or not guilty; he certainly is presumed innocent -- but I mean, you've got this bizarre situation. Is the Connecticut legislator sort of asleep at the wheel the way they designed this law back in 1975?

DONOVAN: Well, there have been a lot of changes in the law, and gradually, people have become much more aware of the dangers that children can pose with respect to serious crimes. I mean, the sad thing about the judge who has to decide this is if she takes a child of privilege, a white child of privilege and says he should be tried as a juvenile, tomorrow, she's likely to be required by Connecticut law to transfer to Superior Court some gang member who may be much less sophisticated, much less advanced in his intellect than this defendant was at 15 who's been persuaded by older gang members to commit a murder.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Up next, the case against Michael Skakel and is there one, whether he's tried as a juvenile or an adult. Stay with us.


According to a Justice Department report, the nation's violent crime rate dropped 10.4 percent last year. This marks the largest decline in 26 years.



VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers. You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

COSSACK: Earlier this month, a Connecticut juvenile judge ruled there was reasonable cause for Michael Skakel to stand trial in the death of Martha Moxley but there's been no ruling of where such a trial should be held. And prosecutors have hinted they'd abandon any case which ended up on a juvenile court docket. Mickey, that seems a little strange to me that prosecutors would want to abandon the case if it ended up in a juvenile court docket, but I am more interested in terms of the evidence that's presented your case. You've already seen a hearing and you've heard the witnesses testify. Who are the ones -- who are the most difficult witnesses against your client?

SHERMAN: I don't think there are many difficult witnesses against my client. It sounds very cocky and boastful, I know, but I'm telling you, I've seen the monster and I'm not terribly frightened by it. They brought two to three people to court to establish this reasonable cause, and one -- you need only look at the transcripts which are available on the Internet to make a judgment for yourself as to whether they are believable, credible and whether or not it will hold up in front of a jury. I don't think so.

But one thing I do want to mention is what you mentioned just a moment ago. It is very odd for this prosecutor, the state's attorney, to announce, "You know something? If it stays in the juvenile court, I'm not even going to prosecute this case." I thought that was a very interesting chess move, if you will, because it puts some interesting pressure on the judge.

Now the judge has been told through the media that if she finds the case to be -- that it's appropriate to stay in the juvenile court, she is in effect throwing this case out. I'm the one who's always being accused of manipulating the media and whatnot. I thought that was a pretty clever move on his part.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Marty, we've had a chance to have this evidence a little previewed and it hasn't been prosecuted for about 25 years because they couldn't get the evidence to even charge. They've now brought these two or three young men in who claim that over -- years ago, that Michael Skakel made a statement that may or may not have been incriminating.

The preview that we have seen -- and I think it's probably the -- they put their best cards in play by the prosecutor -- pretty weak. As a prosecutor, I mean, why would you ever want to bring a weak case?

ROGERS: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: At least that's my opinion of it.

ROGERS: Well, I agree with your opinion. I never wanted to bring a weak case because, you know, what some prosecutors think of as a hard case that is a weak case, I think of as a case that should not be brought because of the damage it does to the person who is charged. You ought to have a strong case before you indict someone for murder or indict someone for anything. And I know in this case that two of these young men, they were young men who were at the drug and alcohol rehab center with Mr. Skakel when they were children, which almost makes them, you know, just not very credible, not just because they never came forward till now, but because of the situation where they found themselves back then when, you know, that certainly would go to their credibility. VAN SUSTEREN: Jeremiah, am I wrong in characterizing at least what we know -- maybe the prosecutors are holding back, you know, some, you know, great piece of evidence, but at least what's being reported now makes this case look like one where, frankly, if I had my choice, I'd rather be the defense attorney than a prosecutor on it. I mean, is this the -- are you satisfied this is a type of case if you were the prosecutor you'd want to bring that you're sufficiently ready for trial?

DONOVAN: Well, I think the case is a lot stronger than Mickey lets on. I mean, I find one of the most damning pieces of evidence is this 1992 statement that Skakel made in which he claimed to be in a tree masturbating. I mean, that sounds to me as though -- like a false exculpatory statement meant to explain why some DNA evidence might have been found.

Let me tell you, Greta, not even 15-year-old boys in New England in the middle of the night, in the middle of the fall sit in trees masturbating.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, I mean, the fact that he says this later, I mean, it's not exactly something you'd volunteer back in 1975. I mean, the fact that he suddenly volunteers in 1992, whether it's true or not, I mean, there's also the side of it it's like it's not something -- that story, because of the personal nature, would be volunteering anyway, right?

DONOVAN: You might not volunteer the fact that you're up in the tree but you certainly would volunteer that you had been out at the time that he was out. And he didn't tell the police about that.

COSSACK: You know, but, Jeremiah, you think that's going to get him convicted? I mean, seriously, that -- I agree with you, that's certainly an unusual statement. But the truth of the matter is, without any kind of other physical evidence or anything else to really connect him to this crime, I mean, do you think that's the kind of statement that's going to get him convicted?

DONOVAN: Mickey, I think you've got a really good shot at winning this case, but I think it's really important that you win the case in front of a jury of 12 rather than in front of a Superior Court judge.

SHERMAN: You know, Jeremiah, at the risk of sounding flip, I have to agree with you and I've said that all along publicly and privately that I almost need and want a jury case here because he needs a public exoneration. He needs the public to see what the evidence is, what it's not, and probably a jury trial is best suited for that. But by the same token, I can't turn my back on the fact that the case really does belong in the juvenile court.

And one thing I want to mention, oddly enough, in defense of the state's attorney, John Benedict (ph) here, which answers the question you posed before, Greta, I don't think he really wanted to bring this case. This case was more or less foisted upon him just by events, not just the Mark Fuhrman book but the case had lingered and it was an obsession.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? You're a lot nicer than I am, Mickey. I think a case shouldn't be brought even if there's a lot public pressure. A prosecutor has got to stand up and say, "I don't want to bring it." But let me say one other thing is that oftentimes, we defense lawyers are so bold thinking a case is really winnable and sometimes juries give us a very good lesson, very good instruction.

SHERMAN: That's for sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: We've lost cases we never dreamed we would.

SHERMAN: That's for sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: We need to take a break. Up next, prosecutors and the defense still await a juvenile court ruling, the case against Michael Skakel a generation later. Stay with us.


Q: Last week, a federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Gennifer Flowers. Who were named as defendants in the suit:

A: Hillary Rodham Clinton, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos.



VAN SUSTEREN: Twenty-five years after the death of Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut, her family is still waiting for someone to be tried in her killing. Former neighbor Michael Skakel could face trial in the death but his defense team and prosecutors are awaiting a crucial ruling in the case. And that, of course, is whether it will be in juvenile or adult court.

Mickey, back up for me a little bit. I don't understand -- explain this one-man grand jury system that charged Michael Skakel in the beginning. That's different from what we usually see.

SHERMAN: Yeah, we've had this for quite some time. It was originally designed, I think, for municipal corruption cases where they wanted to take the state's attorneys office and local police department out of the investigative process just to remove all doubt of any corruption. So they put all the evidence in front of one judge. It's a judge of the Superior Court selected by three other judges and he sits as a one-man grand jury. He has the power to subpoena people. He appoints people to be his prosecutors. Traditionally, he points to a local prosecutor. In this case, it was John Benedict, who is the state's attorney for Fairfield County. He appointed John to be his state's attorney, his investigator. They subpoenaed a mess of people, maybe 53 over a period of a year and a half. And I think Mr. Benedict expected that he would take his best shot, he would ask for this grand jury and put it in once and for all to this cloud of embarrassment that's been hanging over Connecticut and Greenwich for 25 years. But lo and behold, they came up with an indictment or an arrest, actually.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jeremiah, is the job of this one-man grand jury to determine twofold whether there's reasonable cause to believe a crime committed, which I'm sure that everyone would agree it did -- murder? And then there's the second part, reasonable cause to believe that a particular person, here Michael Skakel, did it. Is it two-prong like that?

DONOVAN: Exactly right. But the one-man grand jury performs also the same kind of functions that a federal grand jury performs. That is the state prosecutors don't have that many investigatory powers to subpoena people and to speak with them -- to subpoena people and to speak under oath in the same way that a federal prosecutor will use a federal grand jury to perform those functions. A state prosecutor will ask for a one-man grand jury in order to get those things done.

COSSACK: Jeremiah, what's the feeling in the area? Is there a sense among the community that, in fact, Skakel, being a distant relative of the Kennedys, is receiving some kind of special treatment? Is there any of this -- any of that kind of feeling that that's why these things are going the way they're going?

DONOVAN: No, I don't think so. There was certainly a lot of thought that the investigation was a little bit restrained given, not just -- I mean, Skakel is a Kennedy cousin. I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Carolyn Kennedy, he's her father's brother's wife's brother's kid. I don't even know who that is in my family.

SHERMAN: My head exploded from that description, I got to tell you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, people all the time say the rich have it easier. Sometimes, at least in my experience, the rich have been under the microscope a little bit more. In the criminal justice system, is it better to be rich or poor but for the fact that you can pay for a lawyer?

ROGERS: I would say it is better to be rich rather than poor even in the criminal justice system.


ROGERS: You remind me of the old saying of, "Rich or poor, it's better to have money." It's better to be rich because you can afford a lawyer. The fact is that, you know, our jails are filled with people who are poor by and large. You know, I happen to represent people...

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think Michael Skakel is getting better treatment because he's -- obviously, he's got good lawyers. He's got Mickey.

COSSACK: He's got Mickey Sherman.

VAN SUSTEREN: He's got Mickey Sherman. But besides that, is he getting treatment different from, let's say, someone who doesn't have his background, do you think?

ROGERS: You know, it could cut either way. I mean, people say that maybe the investigation early on, you know, 25 years ago, wasn't really conducted right because the Skakels were very wealthy and lived in this enclave in Greenwich.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that happen?

ROGERS: So did the Moxleys live in that very wealthy enclave right across the street. You know, I think the problem was there just wasn't any physical evidence for them, and it sort of has come about because it's been 25 years, and of course, the Moxleys want to come to closure on this. And Mark Fuhrman did this book on that and they want to close the book.

COSSACK: And speaking of closing the book, you couldn't give us a better exit.

VAN SUSTEREN: Better closing.

COSSACK: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE," an animal rights group uses New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in its advertising campaign against the U.S. dairy industry. Has PETA gone too far? Tune in, log on and weigh in today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And tomorrow on BURDEN OF PROOF, John and Patsy Ramsey meet with authorities for the first time in more than two years. Will it advance the investigation into the death of their daughter, JonBenet? That's tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Eastern on another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We will see you then.



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