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Skakel to Stand Trial in '75 Slaying

Courts: Judge rules there is sufficient evidence to try the Kennedy nephew on murder charge, despite a challenge to the credibility of a prosecution witness.


BOSTON — A Connecticut judge ruled Friday that Michael Skakel must stand trial in the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was 15 at the time Moxley's body was found beneath a tree in Greenwich, Conn. She had been bludgeoned to death with a golf club. The teens were neighbors in tony Belle Haven, a gated enclave within one of the country's wealthiest communities.

As the charge of murder was read Friday, the 40-year-old Skakel rose and said: "I am not guilty."

The judge did not set a trial date. Both sides have until May 21 to file legal motions.

Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. of Stamford, Conn., rejected defense arguments that there was insufficient evidence linking Skakel to the crime. His decision came in spite of revelations by the defense this week that a key prosecution witness used drugs shortly before testifying.

Evidence presented by the prosecution during a two-day hearing provides "probable cause [to believe] that the crime of murder was committed and the defendant committed it," Kavanewsky said Friday.

The judge explained that probable cause goes beyond "mere suspicion but is substantially less than what is required for a conviction."

Earlier this year, a Connecticut juvenile court judge rebuffed attempts by Skakel's counsel to prevent the case from moving to adult court. Because of his age when the crime was committed, Skakel was initially arraigned as a juvenile.

The case lay dormant for more than 20 years, vexing Moxley's family and gnawing at the pristine town where both teens had lived.

A major break came when several people who were students at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Maine during the 1970s came forward to say Skakel had confessed to the crime during group therapy sessions. Skakel was sent to the Elan School after a drunken-driving accident in 1978.

He was not then a suspect in the Moxley murder. He stayed at the school for almost two years.

One former Elan School classmate, Gregory Coleman, testified earlier this week that Skakel had told him he killed Moxley, saying: "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."

But under intense questioning from Mickey Sherman, Skakel's attorney, Coleman also admitted he had used heroin before testifying before a grand jury, as well as two days before his Wednesday court appearance.

When asked whether his drug use affected his memory, Coleman said: "It affects my ability to focus." But he stood by his testimony implicating Skakel.

A second prosecution witness also told the court last week that he heard Skakel confess to the crime at the Maine treatment facility.

In an interview Friday, Sherman said he was surprised that the judge had not allowed him to introduce witnesses to rebut prosecution testimony.

He dismissed the prosecution witnesses as "admitted liars . . . two warm bodies that they brought into the building saying: 'I heard Michael Skakel say he killed Martha Moxley.' One admitted shooting heroin an hour before testifying before the grand jury. The quality of their testimony is somewhat suspect, to say the least."

Calls to the state's attorney, Jonathan C. Benedict, were not returned.

Moxley was killed Oct. 30, 1975, after she left a Halloween party. Her body was found on her family's property. In their pre-Halloween antics that night, she and a group of other teens had visited the Skakel home.

Police said she was beaten to death with a golf club later traced to a set owned by the Skakel family. Rushton Skakel, Michael's father, is the brother of Robert F. Kennedy's widow.

Along with his older brother, Thomas, then 17, Michael Skakel was initially considered as a suspect but was not formally questioned by police during the original investigation. The Skakel family stopped cooperating with police in 1976 and later hired private investigators in an attempt to remove suspicion from both sons.

Michael Skakel was arrested in January 2000 after issuing of the grand jury's report, based on testimony from dozens of witnesses.

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