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Judge Issues Ruling in Skakel Hearing

Aired April 20, 2001 - 12:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news for you. In just the last few moments, we have learned that a judge has ruled that Kennedy nephew Michael Skakel will go to trial. Let's go now to our Deborah Feyerick, who is standing by in Stamford, Connecticut -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, just moments ago, the judge issued his ruling. He said that there is probable cause that someone intentionally killed Martha Moxley, and that person he said is the defendant Michael Skakel. So this is going to trial.

Keep in mind, probable cause means that all the state had to show was that there was more evidence than just mere suspicion that he may have done this, but certainly not enough evidence to necessarily convict Michael Skakel. So the burden of evidence falls somewhere in the middle.

Skakel's lawyer wasted no time. He had several witnesses who were standing by, including schoolmates of Michael Skakel's who we had not heard from before. And they're expected to testify. Michael Skakel's attorney still trying to get a judge to change his mind on this to say, look, it just shouldn't go to trial. But the judge has said yes it is. He said that admissions that Skakel made to two classmates, in fact, provided both motive and an account of the surrounding circumstances, which placed Michael Skakel there, or in that vicinity, the night that Martha Moxley was killed back in 1975.

Now, among the evidence that the judge did consider is a golf club. It was a matching golf club to the murder weapon. That golf club was found in the Skakel home. It was tagged with the name of one of the Skakel family, the mother, actually. The judge said that, again, that also led credence to the fact that he may have committed this crime.

And the judge didn't comment on testimony by a former police chief who said, "Well, look, there's no blood, no fingerprints, no DNA evidence." The judge said the fact that the golf club was found in the Skakel home was enough.

As for the witness testimony, while there was a lot of brouhaha made about one of the witnesses who said he was on heroin when he testified before a grand jury, the judge still said that, again, the account was basically an admission, so that he did include the testimony in making his ruling. Skakel's lawyer putting witnesses on, still trying to get the judge to change his mind. But right now, Leon, it doesn't seem likely.

HARRIS: All right, well, Deborah, has the schedule been set? Do you know when this is going to go to trial?

FEYERICK: No. Possibly we may know by the end of the day. But, again, nothing has been happening exactly the way it's supposed to be. So we may know when this will go to trial at day's end. But, again, Mickey Sherman, Michael Skakel's lawyer, really has to do a good job to try to convince the judge otherwise.

HARRIS: All right, Deborah Feyerick reporting live with this breaking news from Stamford, Connecticut -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: With more on this, let's bring in our legal analyst Roger Cossack standing by in our Washington bureau -- Roger, good morning.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning. And happy birthday, Leon.

HARRIS: Thank you.

KAGAN: I will pass that on to Leon as well. Back to the Skakel situation here.

Unusual in that this is the second time that there has been a probable cause hearing in this case. First, there was a judge said there's enough evidence to try you as a juvenile, and now as an adult.

COSSACK: Right. This is A motion -- this motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause, which is traditionally made by defense lawyers. In this case, however, there was I thought a very good chance that it may succeed.

Now, as Deborah Feyerick has pointed out, the standard of proof in a probable cause hearing is very, very low. You're not asking a judge to make a decision as to whether or not there exists enough doubt -- enough evidence that would prove someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You're merely asking this judge to decide whether or not there is reasonable belief to believe, one, a crime has been committed and the defendant is the person that committed that crime, in this case Michael Skakel.

So it's a very low standard. But nevertheless, there are serious problems in the prosecution's case. We've heard some. No DNA, no physical evidence, and a couple of witnesses that upon cross- examination in a trial when they're tested by reasonable doubt are going to have some serious problems.

KAGAN: And, Roger, in fact in this probable cause hearing, only prosecution witnesses have testified. So now the burden, at least at this point, is on Mickey Sherman, the defense attorney. What can you do as a defense attorney trying to get this not to go to trial at this point when the judge has already said let's go ahead?

COSSACK: Well, you know, it's a very interesting tactic. If it was me, frankly, I wouldn't be putting on any defense witnesses because the chances of success are really remote because even if the judge says, "Look, I believe your witnesses and I believe the prosecution's witnesses," the judge is still going to come down and say, "This case should go to trial. I'm not here to decide whether or not he's guilty or not guilty. I'm here merely to say is there enough evidence for this case to go forward?"

And since you have two prosecution witnesses, and tainted as they may be, who are saying that Skakel confessed to them, that seems like it's enough to show that this case will go to trial unless this judge wanted to hold what we lawyers call a matter of law that they are liars. And that's something tat a jury should deciding and not a judge.

KAGAN: And as we look forward to this trial, what do you think will be the biggest burden for the prosecution and also for the defense?

COSSACK: Well, the prosecution has a tough way to go because, as I've indicated, it's, first of all, it's a 25-year-old crime. Second of all, apparently there is no physical evidence, no DNA, or that kind of incontrovertible evidence that makes it very difficult for the defense.

And what they have is a couple of witnesses who claim that Skakel admitted this. But both of these witnesses are very tainted by their own drug use and their own admissions that they were using drugs at the time that they made their statements.

For the defense, frankly, I think the defense's job is to pretty much sit back, I would be very surprised if Michael Skakel ever got near that witness stand, and just poke holes in the prosecution's case.

KAGAN: Roger Cossack, thank you. We will see you in about 23 minutes on "Burden of Proof".

COSSACK: I'm running there now.

KAGAN: OK, we'll see you.

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