The Martha Moxley case, one of the most sensational unsolved crimes in state history, Wednesday began forging a new status as one of the most bizarre murder prosecutions in state history.
It will feature murder defendant Michael Skakel -- who, like Martha, was 15 at the time of the Oct. 30, 1975, killing -- being prosecuted in juvenile court at age 39 through what could be a year's worth of motions, arguments and appeals over his possible transfer to adult court.
After years of speculation that police went easy on the Skakels at the outset of the investigation because of their wealth and prominence -- Michael Skakel is the son of wealthy industrialist Rushton Skakel and nephew of Robert and Ethel Skakel Kennedy -- state laws will afford Skakel protections seldom afforded adult murder defendants.
This case that was marked for so long by stagnation, and most recently by secrecy during the course of an 18-month grand jury investigation, will recede into the secrecy of the juvenile justice system. Even the warrant underlying Skakel's arrest remains sealed.
But Wednesday was very much a public turning point.
More than a hundred journalists converged in a meeting room of Bridgeport's
Holiday Inn to hear Fairfield County State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict confirm that his office had secured an arrest warrant for murder for a defendant he couldn't name because that individual was a juvenile at the time.
Benedict hastily left the podium and its ample bouquet of microphones and strode stone-faced from the room as questions were hurled at him from all sides -- to no avail.
Michael R. ``Mickey'' Sherman -- who represents Skakel -- wasted no time in commandeering the podium to proclaim his client's innocence and deride the state for not informing him of the arrest warrant application or asking that he surrender his client.
Sheriffs arrived at Skakel's Hobe Sound, Fla., home early Wednesday morning, only to be told he was en route to Connecticut. Sherman said he suggested to Skakel Tuesday night that he fly to Connecticut, based on media reports that an arrest warrant was imminent.
``I'm not thrilled I learned about this from the media, and I'm not thrilled a sheriff went to his folks' house in Florida,'' Sherman said. ``Nothing surprises me about this case anymore.''
Sherman described Skakel as being ``anxious and very concerned, and looking forward to getting this resolved.'' Sherman said Skakel is innocent, and was adamant that they will not consider a plea bargain in the case.
Sherman, a frequent guest on Court TV and other legal affairs talk shows, brushed off the case's high-profile status.
``It's not a Kennedy trial. It's not an O.J. trial,'' Sherman said. ``It's a trial of a young man accused of killing his next door neighbor. It shouldn't be a celebrity trial.
``Of course, that's easy to say with 50,000 cameras facing you,'' Sherman quipped.
``This case has taken on a life of it's own,'' Sherman added. ``Three books, a mini-series. It's like a charging elephant.''
Skakel turned himself in to Greenwich police at about 3 p.m., and soon was released on a $500,000 bond. It could not be ascertained Wednesday whether bond conditions prevent Skakel from leaving the state while the case is pending or otherwise restrict his travel. The date of his first appearance in juvenile court was not made public.
For Skakel's case to reach adult criminal court, a juvenile judge must rule -- after holding a hearing -- that the ``child'' probably committed the act with which he is charged and that no state institution designed for the care and treatment of children is suitable for him. Veteran juvenile prosecutor Hillary Barger, who works in Bridgeport, described the latter as ``an easy burden. I don't think he's going to Long Lane at 40.''
In juvenile court, Skakel faces no more than four years in custody; in adult court the maximum penalty for murder is 60 years.
For some Greenwich residents, the stuttering 24-year investigation has been mind-numbing.
Nick Nikas, owner of the Putnam Restaurant, said he has lost interest in the case, which he likens to a television soap opera.
``We're talking about something that happened over 20 years ago,'' Nikas said. ``It's to the point now that, who cares?''
Nikas said he remembers reading about the murder when it happened, but he, and other area residents have gone on with their lives and have since only paid marginal attention to the case.
But Joe Reilly, manager of Quinn's Groceries, said the arrest is all abuzz around town. He said people are saying that it's about time that someone was arrested.
Reilly said many residents thought Skakel was getting preferential treament because of his relationship to the Kennedy family. He said residents also question how police could have ignored evidence linking the golfclub used to kill Moxley to the Skakel family.
``The town police should have done more,'' Reilly said.
Dominick Dunne, author of ``A Season in Purgatory,'' a fictionalized account of the Moxley murder, said he was ``utterly thrilled'' by the arrest.
``I think this has gone on much, much too long,'' Dunne said. ``It's been a terrible hardship for [Dorothy] Moxley,'' the victim's mother.
Dunne said he believes the case has dragged on as long as it has in part because of the inexperience of Greenwich police.
``None of them had ever been at a murder scene,'' Dunne said.
But he said the main reason was due to the Skakel family's wealth and influence in Greenwich. He said the family had lived in Greenwich for three generations. Although the Moxley family was also wealthy, they had only been in town for three years.
``They had no clout,'' Dunne said. ``They were not part of the community.''
He said police bowed to pressure and intimidation from the Skakel family. He said the Skakels refused to make their children available to police and told investigators to submit questions in writing to the family attorney.
``How many poor families would have had that opportunity,'' Dunne said.