A jury may never get the chance to decide if Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel murdered 15-year-old Martha Moxley 26 years ago.
Lawyers for Robert F. Kennedy's nephew say murder charges should be dismissed because of a five-year statute of limitations that was in effect at the time of the 1975 slaying.
Skakel's lawyers say that state law at the time set a five-year limit for prosecution of all cases except those that could carry the death penalty. Skakel, now 40, is not charged with a capital offense.
Lawyers argued the motion last week. Stamford Superior Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. is weighing his decision.
The fact that Kavanewsky is willing even to consider dismissing the case is worrisome to Dorthy Moxley, whose daughter was beaten to death with a golf club in October 1975 in a wealthy Greenwich, Conn., neighborhood. The club was traced to a set owned by the Skakel family.
"It would be a terrible injustice," Moxley said Friday. "It would be devastating to me."
Moxley said she remains optimistic after receiving assurances from investigators and prosecutions,
But others are less certain.
While defense lawyers often file motions to dismiss charges, Skakel's move is not a frivolous one, said Todd Fernow, a law professor at the University of Connecticut.
"I think it's a solid legal argument," Fernow said. "I think it really could go either way."
Statutes of limitation recognize the difficulty in mounting a defense against old charges. Exceptions are often made for serious crimes such as murder.
Prosecutors say murder prosecutions are not subject to any statute of limitations. State law was changed in 1976 to eliminate time limits for prosecuting serious felonies, including murder.
Prosecutors cited a state Supreme Court case involving Anthony Golino, who was arrested in 1984 for a murder committed in 1973. His lawyers also argued that the statute of limitations had expired. The court ruled against Golino, who was later exonerated for unrelated reasons.
Skakel's lawyers contend the Golino case does not apply because at that time all murders could potentially qualify for capital punishment.
Experts are also split on the issue.
"Legally, I think that Skakel's side has the better of the argument," said Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University.
Hugh Keefe, the defense attorney who represented Golino, said he believes the high court misinterpreted state law in that case. But based on that decision, he said he does not expect Skakel's case to be dismissed.
Bill Dunlap, a law professor at Quinnipiac University, said a literal reading of the law could lead to a dismissal. But the Golino case provides a rationale for the prosecution's argument, he said.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who is prosecuting the case, said he remains confident the law supports his argument. He said he would appeal any dismissal.
Skakel's lawyers are mindful of the outrage that likely would follow if a defendant from a wealthy, connected family avoided a trial on what might be perceived as a technicality.
"Although it seems very offensive to so many people ... the law is the law," said lead defense attorney Michael Sherman.
Courts have ruled twice that enough evidence exists for the Skakel case to proceed to trial.