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Chappaquiddick Probe Demanded : Escondido Lawyer Protests 'Cover-Up' of Kennedy Incident

July 21, 1989|NANCY RAY | Times Staff Writer

Escondido attorney Gary Kreep and his United States Justice Foundation are launching a nationwide petition campaign to force an investigation of what he called "the massive and ludicrous cover-up" of the Chappaquiddick incident involving Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass).

Kreep, who is executive director of the foundation, announced his plans in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of the accident in which a car driven by Kennedy went off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Massachusetts and Mary Jo Kopechne, a passenger in the car, drowned.

In a ceremony at which he placed a wreath on the bridge where the accident occurred, Kreep said he will ask Massachusetts authorities to investigate the incident because of new information he says has surfaced. He was accompanied to Massachusetts by five other West Coast members of the foundation.

Presidential Contender

The foundation, a conservative lawyers group, called for the reinvestigation after a survey conducted by the Boston Globe newspaper showed that Kennedy is the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992.

Kreep said that the foundation petitioned the U. S. Senate Ethics Committee in 1984 to reopen the Chappaquiddick investigation, but that, despite more than 150,000 cards and letters supporting the inquiry that were sent to the committee, it refused to act.

Kreep said the new information about what was "probably the single most controversial event in American political history" includes statements by the foreman of the 1969 Dukes County Grand Jury quoted in Newsweek that "there was a cover-up" and that "all they were interested in was protecting Teddy's political career." The jury foreman, Leslie Leland, also said that the 1969 grand jury was frustrated in its attempts to subpoena witnesses and examine the inquest record in the case.

Recent statements by the dead woman's parents, Joseph and Gwen Kopechne, and others led the foundation to launch its campaign, Kreep said. Authorities who are being asked to conduct the probe include James Shannon, Massachusetts attorney general; Philip Rollins, Dukes County prosecutor, and the Dukes County grand jury.

"To this day, as a result of the political and financial power of the Kennedy family, the true circumstances of (Kopechne's) death have never been fully revealed," Kreep said.

Aide to Robert Kennedy

The accident occurred July 18, 1969, when the car driven by Kennedy crashed through the railings of a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing Kopechne, 28, who was an aide to Kennedy's brother, the late Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Kennedy testified that he repeatedly attempted to free Kopechne from the submerged car after the accident but was unsuccessful. He admitted leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report the accident until 10 hours later.

Kennedy received a suspended jail sentence of two months, and his driving license was suspended for a year.

Kreep said the nationwide petition campaign is designed "to keep as much political pressure as possible" on the Massachusetts authorities to reopen the case.

The Escondido-based United States Justice Foundation is a nonprofit group with about 50 members in 16 states. It was founded to provide legal services to individuals or businesses "harassed by government agencies, government rules and/or government-supported 'private' organizations."

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