Michael Skakel Arraigned

ByABC News

Feb. 21, 2001 -- Twenty-five years after Martha Moxley's bludgeoned body was found, her former neighbor Michael Skakel was arraigned today on a murder charge in her death.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was 15 years old, like Moxley herself, when she was beaten to death. Her body was found Oct. 31, 1975, on her family's estate in the wealthy community of Greenwich, Conn.

Skakel, now 40, did not enter a plea today in Superior Court in Stamford, Conn., but answered questions saying he fully understood his rights.

Defense attorney Michael Sherman petitioned for a probable cause hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. Superior Court Judge John F.Kavanewsky set that hearing for April 18.

After the brief arraignment today, Sherman said his client is "standing tall. He is ready for this case to go on."

Sherman said he is confident the judge will rule there is not enough evidence to proceed with the case.

"He didn't do it. He didn't commit this crime," Sherman said of Skakel. "It is very conceivable that a judge could not find probable cause."

He said there was not a "shot in hell" that Skakel would agree to a plea bargain.

No Arrest For 24 Years

The son of Rushton Skakel Sr., a brother of Robert F. Kennedy's widow Ethel, Michael Skakel was long suspected of killing Moxley, who prosecutors say was bludgeoned with a golf club belonging to the Skakel family.

The night before her death, Moxley had been at the Skakel household with a group of friends, including Michael and his older brother Thomas. Police originally suspected Thomas but turned their attention to Michael after he changed his story about his whereabouts during the slaying.

No arrests were made in the Moxley case for 24 years until another Connecticut judge, acting as a one-man grand jury, completed an 18-month investigation and concluded there was enough evidence to move on Skakel. He was arrested on Jan. 19, 2000.

The case was originally filed in Juvenile Court because Skakel was a minor at the time of Moxley's death. After five months of deliberations, Juvenile Court Judge Maureen Dennis ruled Jan. 31 that Skakel should be tried as an adult — a decision Sherman is appealing because standards for probable cause are different in adult and juvenile court.

During hearings this past June in Juvenile Court, prosecutors presented two witnesses who testified that Skakel admitted killing Moxley. One of them — John Higgins, a classmate of Skakel's at the Elan School, a private boarding school in Maine for troubled teenagers — told the court the defendant admitted involvement in Moxley's death and remembered taking a golf club from his family's garage and running through the woods with it.

Skakel has denied any involvement in Moxley's slaying. Following a court hearing in March 2000, he walked up to the girl's mother and told her, "I feel your pain but you've got the wrong guy."

Change of Venue Sought

Kavanewsky is expected to hold a hearing Feb. 28 on a prosecution request to move the trial to another Bridgeport, Conn. Prosecutors say the trial should be held there because 25 years ago all major crimes in the area were handled in Bridgeport Superior Court.

In her January ruling, Dennis established Stamford Superior Court as the venue because the Stamford/Norwalk Judicial District includes Greenwich.

But Sherman said the defense wants the case to remain in Stamford. "The issue is whether or not people can be fair," Sherman said today. "The case happened here; the case should be tried here."

If he is convicted as an adult, Skakel would face 25 years to life in prison. If he wins his appeal to be tried as a juvenile, he would face a maximum of four years in prison.

ABCNEWS.com's Claire Moore contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events