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Judge Rules Michael Skakel Can Be Tried for Murder

Aired April 20, 2001 - 13:00   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And we have a story that is developing in Stamford, Connecticut, where a judge ruled just a short while ago that there is sufficient evidence now to proceed with a trial against Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin accused in the 1975 killing of a 15-year-old girl.

Skakel's attorney, Mickey Sherman is now talking with reporters outside the courtroom.


QUESTION: What were they going to say this (OFF-MIKE)

MICHAEL SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S ATTORNEY: What the witnesses would have said today is what I said they would say: that they were in the Elan program at the time that Michael Skakel was there. They were familiar with Michael Skakel. They were familiar with John Higgins. They were familiar with Greg Coleman -- that there was no way that Michael Skakel -- or probably, for that matter, anybody -- would have confided in these guys, and that had they confided in these guys, that would have been all over the program. Everybody would have known about it.

They would have talked about the reputation for veracity and truthfulness that these folks did not enjoy. They -- I'm sorry.

I'm not filing a change of venue motion. We will file some motions like you do in a criminal case. We've already filed some. But I have no intention of filing a change of venue motion.

I'm sorry?

Michael was feeling fine. There's no way they're ever going to put the ketchup back in the bottle after Coleman spilled his guts the other day. So this was not a shocker. Coleman was a shocker.

What was he doing up the tree? That will be explained at the proper time. And the kicker is, it wasn't that tree.

Yeah. Yeah. I think we did have a shot. I mean, I think you thought we had a shot too when you heard their chief and star witness say I shot up heroin across from the courthouse before I testified before the grand jury. When he testified that when he came to this building to testify, he was suffering the effects of withdrawal. And, you know, again, I'm not here to dis people who have drug problems. That's the nature of our society. But just don't spill them onto us. And don't point the finger at somebody for murder when you're suffering from withdrawal.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Do you think that was planned? Or was that part of this strategy?

SHERMAN: There was no way in hell John knew he was going to say that. There's just no way.

QUESTION: Was Michael emotionally prepared for this decision?

SHERMAN: Michael Skakel is emotionally prepared for anything at this point. Believe me.

The question is did Michael climb the tree? I'm not going there. It's not the appropriate time. When and if Mr. Michael Skakel ever testifies, then he will tell that.

What kind of case does the state have? What kind of trial? It's going to be an interesting trial for any number of reasons, especially since it's truly a whodunit. And what kind of case does the state have?

Well, we've seen the best and the brightest. There's one gentleman who lied consistently to the police, who kept telling them, "I didn't hear a confession," when he didn't realize he was being tape-recorded. It's someone who came forward after a reward was made known to him. It's someone who demanded that the victim's mother ask him personally to come here.

And their second star witness and their greatest star is someone who shot up heroin before he testified and lied -- and lied to the grand jury. That's their case.

Will I put my client on the stand? Honestly, I don't know. And I never know. People in my position, you don't make that call until the last minute.

He definitely wants to testify. If he testifies.

Can Michael get a fair trial? He can. I've said that since moment one. I really believe he can. Even though there has been so much misinformation and disinformation out there, I think Michael Skakel will get a fair trial. We will find jurors who even though they've heard everything about the case, so they think, they're going to hear more. And they'll be able to keep a fair mind.

General election to the probable cause finding, not terribly surprised. Reaction to us not being able to put on a case, surprised.

Well, that's two questions. What's my confidence level that I will be able to exonerate? My confidence level is 100 percent that he will be found not guilty. Exonerating is a function of the way you folks spin it. And that's one of the tragedies about this case is even when -- not if -- but when he's found not guilty, I just hope that people will come out and realize that it's not that he got off, but that he truly did not commit this crime. And that's the problem with the exoneration.

I would love to tell you, yes, it's all planned out. But no.

No, we've already filed pre-motions. Obviously, there's a motion that's been filed based upon on the statute of limitations. There's a motion that's been filed to dismiss based upon the delay and the fact that it's fundamentally unfair as we've seen by virtue of witnesses dying and moving away. And there will be other motions as well, some discovery motions, things of that nature.

I'm sorry?

Yeah, no. That was idle curiosity. And I'm glad you ask me the question. The question is why did I ask if this judge was going to be the presiding judge? Just curious. Don't take it the wrong way. I'd be very happy to have Judge Kavanewsky as the judge. I've known him for 25 years as a lawyer and more recently a judge. I think he's fair minded.

Again, I disagree with his decision. But no, he would be terrific. And you have got to understand, this isn't a judge case. This case is going to be decided by a jury. The judge in those situations is a referee. I just want somebody who's fair minded, and he is.

That's true. That's the problem. Everyone assumes that if you got arrested, you must be guilty. And that's been amplified very negatively in this case by virtue of the alleged Kennedy connection and everything else, and the books, and the spin, and the TV stuff. So he really needs an exoneration. But I've got to tell you, short of somebody walking in the building in the middle of the trial like in a movie saying, "No, it was me," it's going to be tough.

He'll be found not guilty. But exonerated, I can only hope so.

When is the trial going to start? I wish I knew. Maybe we have some idea that it's going to be fairly quick by the motion schedule. But honestly I would hope within six months. But I base that on nothing in particular.

How do I deal with the fact that Greg Coleman never backed off of his two statements that I drove her head in and that, "I'm a Kennedy, I'm going to get away with murder." Well, now that it's over, even though I probably shouldn't be commenting on the evidence, how can you not?

Number one, I drove her head in, and I used a driver. He was so consistent about that. He only fluffed on it when it came to this hearing. But in the last hearing, he said at least six or seven times, "Michael Skakel told me it was a driver. It was a driver. I remember that specifically. He told me it was a driver. He also told me, and I remember it so specifically, that he went back two days later and masturbated on the body." Now, why is all of the sudden Greg Coleman so credible when that is just a fantastic thought to believe? It's impossible. And, of course, what's the better comment than Michael Skakel's first words to him were, "I'm a Kennedy. I'm going to get away with murder."

And he stuck to it. He stuck to it. And it makes a lot of sense. You're with somebody from 11:00 at night until 2:00 in the morning playing your records. And he remembers the records. But all he remembers is that the first words ever coming out of Michael Skakel's mouth were, "I'm a Kennedy. I'm going to get away with murder."

You find a jury that's going to buy that? I don't see it happening.

Yes? Michael will be doing what he's been doing up until now. He's living his life, taking care of his child, and dealing with this. Other than that, I don't like to invade his privacy.

I don't discuss what he does personally. I don't even want to say if this child is a boy or a girl.

Michael absolutely maintains, as he has from moment one, A, he didn't do it. And, B: He has no clue who did.

OK. Thank you.

WATERS: All right, that is the attorney for Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin who will proceed to trial. For a second time, the judge has ruled that there is enough evidence to have a trial for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley when Michael Skakel and Martha Moxley both were 15 years of age. A juvenile judge ruled earlier on the evidence, and now an adult court judge has ruled on the evidence.

The interesting part about this second hearing was that the grand jury prosecution witness, who's name is Gregory Coleman, at first, as you heard Sherman refer to several times, said that Michael Skakel confessed to him that he did commit the murder.

We have Deborah Feyerick, who has been closely covering this trial in Stanford with us now. Deborah, despite the subsequent learning that this prosecution witness was on heroin when he testified before the grand jury, the judge said there was sufficient evidence based on what?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did. Well, the judge actually said that even the admission that Michael Skakel made to this particular witness does in fact qualify in terms of meeting the minimum threshold of evidence. He also relied on testimony from another schoolmate who said Michael Skakel broke down sobbing saying, "I may have done it. I could have done it," then ultimately, "I did it."

Plus, the judge also pointed out that a matching golf club was found in the Skakel home very much like the one, in fact from the same set, as the murder weapon used to kill Martha Moxley. Now, you heard the lawyer say that he was not surprised that the judge found probable cause. The lawyer for Skakel did say, though, he was surprised by the fact he wasn't allowed to put on witness, the judge pointed out that, "Look, this is not a mini-trial. This is simply a probable cause hearing."

And so the amount of evidence needed to take it to trial is very low. It's more than just a mere suspicion, but much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt. For the first time in all of these hearings, we finally heard Michael Skakel plead not guilty. He didn't have to do that in juvenile court. He has always maintained his innocence. But today for the first time, Michael Skakel pleading not guilty.

He left the courtroom. He was shaking his head a bit. He had hoped that perhaps this one witness, the one who had testified to the grand jury when he was on heroin, might just blow the state's case right out of the water.

But the judge said, no, in fact, there's enough to at least put this before a jury. It will be up to the jury to decide who and who is not credible, Lou.

WATERS: And Mickey Sherman saying he is confident, 100 percent confident, that his client will be found not guilty. Deborah Feyerick in Stanford on the latest ruling in the Michael Skakel affair.



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