Skakel jury includes cop

April 5, 2002 at 9:53 AM
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NORWALK, Conn., April 5 (UPI) -- The first week of jury selection for the Michael Skakel trial wraps up Friday with a police officer among the five jurors chosen so far to hear the high-profile murder case.

In an unusual but not unprecedented move, defense attorney Michael Sherman on Thursday agreed to add the 18-year veteran Darien, Conn., police officer to the jury that will decide Skakel's fate. Police officers are usually not chosen for juries because of the impression that they would be inclined to donvict a defendant.

The 41-year-old Skakel, who is a Kennedy relative, is standing trial on charges of murdering Martha Moxley in 1975 when both were 15 and neighbors in Greenwich.

Jury selection is expected to last several weeks, with the trial tentatively scheduled to start May 7.

During questioning, Sherman asked the officer if he believed Skakel was guilty.

"Not till I hear the evidence," the officer answered. "There's always two sides to a story. In my mind I know I could be fair."

Later outside the Norwalk, Conn., courthouse, Sherman said that contrary to the assumption that police officers are considered more likely to convict, he believed the officer to be "a fair-minded person."

"The fact he's a cop to me is a plus," Sherman said. "He knows the system. He's in a good position to know what's good evidence and what's bad evidence."

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict had no objection, saying this was not the first time he's tried a case with a police officer on the jury.

"Police officers have more experience with the court system," Benedict said. "They're fair."

Sherman has crossed paths with the officer before in previous legal cases, cross-examining him while defending a man accused of assaulting the officer, and also representing a school principal charged with sexually harassing the officer's wife.

The officer was one of two jurors selected Thursday. The other was an administrative assistant, bringing to five the number chosen so far -- two men and three women. A jury of 12 with four alternates will be selected to hear the case.

Skakel is charged with beating and stabbing Moxley to death with his mother's golf club the night of Oct. 30, 1974. Her body was found on her family's lawn the following morning.

Prosecutors allege that Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, confessed to the killing to classmates at the Elan School in Maine in the late 1970s.

No one was charged in the case until a one-judge grand jury found cause to have Skakel arrested in January 2000.

If convicted, Skakel could face life in prison.

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