“Skakel Prosecutors, Defense Prepare for Battle Over Polygraph Evidence”

John Springer reports for Court TV. Excerpt:

In the 26 years since 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found bludgeoned to death on her own lawn, the list of suspects has included a pair of brothers, a tutor and even a gardener.

There was Kenneth Littleton, the live-in tutor for the Skakel family, Kennedy family relatives who lived next door to the Moxleys in a wealthy enclave in Greenwich, Conn. One theory surmised that a transient wandered into the area and attacked the girl.

It would take authorities a quarter of a century to zero in on one suspect, Michael Skakel, the then-15-year-old son of industrialist Rushton Skakel, the brother of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. Now that Skakel’s trial is set to begin next month, prosecutors will attempt to limit the testimony of previous suspects that could potentially raise doubt in the minds of the jury.

Included in pre-trial motions expected to be filed next week by prosecutors, according to a source in the prosecutor’s office, is a motion to bar the defense from questioning two previous suspects – Littleton, and Skakel’s older brother, Thomas – about the results of polygraph tests they took years ago.

Skakel’s defense lawyer, Mickey Sherman, is, understandably, opposed to any such limitations.

“Generally once someone takes the stand, most judges allow a wide latitude for cross-examination and certainly anything that bears on their credibility is often fair game,” Sherman said. Lead prosecutor Jonathan Benedict declined to comment on the pending motions.

The issue is unchartered territory as far as Connecticut case law goes. Connecticut, like most states, prohibits the results of a defendant’s polygraph test from being admitted in court but there is no precedent for admitting evidence about other witnesses’ polygraphs to impeach their credibility.

Skakel pleaded not guilty in February 2001 to a charge he committed the brutal killing the night before Halloween in 1975 in the gated community of Belle Haven, a section of affluent Greenwich. The popular teen was killed with a golf club from the Skakel family’s collection.

“Allow Lie Detector Results, Lawyers Say”

Nichole Monroe Bell reports for the Charlottesville Observer regarding a capital murder trial in South Carolina. Excerpt:

YORK – The judge handling the capital murder retrial of Sterling Spann is considering a motion to admit the results of two lie-detector tests that defense attorneys argue show their client is innocent.

According to documents filed in S.C. Supreme Court, Spann’s attorneys contend he has passed two polygraph examinations administered at the request of the defense lawyers. Since his arrest in 1981, Spann has maintained he is innocent in the rape and slaying of 81-year-old Melva Harper Niell of Clover.

Polygraph tests monitor a subject’s breathing, sweat glands, blood pressure or heart rate to indicate whether the person is telling the truth. Although police routinely use polygraph tests to investigate criminal cases, results of the tests historically have been deemed inadmissible in court because some experts question their reliability.

Circuit Judge J. Derham Cole hasn’t yet ruled on whether to allow jurors to hear the results of the test. Cole has issued a gag order barring lawyers from discussing motions in public and has ordered that the motions be sealed in Circuit Court. The seal does not apply to records in the S.C. Supreme Court.

Spann was convicted of murder in 1982 and sentenced to death, but the S.C. Supreme Court granted him a new trial, saying evidence not available during the first trial might have changed the outcome.

Spann, who spent 17 years on death row before his release on bond three years ago, is scheduled to receive a second trial beginning March 4.

He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Defense attorneys stated in court records that they believe the polygraph clears their client and should be admitted. Spann’s attorneys have argued that another man killed Niell.

“There simply is no doubt that the results of polygraph examinations, especially favorable results, are admissible in South Carolina…” a letter from defense attorney Diana Holt said.

Prosecutors disagree, according to court records.

“Polygraph tests have never been admissible in the criminal courts of this state,” they argued. “The only clear result of this motion is to place in the public record the results of an irrelevant test.”

“Judge Seeks Support for Polygraph Tests”

Kimball Perry of the Cincinnati Post reports that Presiding Judge Robert S. Kraft of the General Division of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas will ask judges to support expanded use of tax-payer funded polygraph “tests.” Judge Kraft has previously urged that polygraph “tests” be used in all felonies.

Judge Kraft needs to know about the lie behind the lie detector. He should also be made aware of the case of Floyd “Buzz” Fay of Perrysburg, Ohio, who was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison based on polygraph “evidence.” (See pp. 264-67 of the 2nd ed. of David T. Lykken’s A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector.)

You can write a letter to Judge Kraft at the following address:

Judge Robert S. Kraft
Hamilton County Court House
1000 Main Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Alternatively, you can call through the court administrator, Mike Watson at (513) 946-5900 or send a fax at (513) 946-5800.