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Skakel Murder Trial Will Go to Jury Today

Courts: Prosecutor says the Kennedy cousin is a 'spoiled brat' who thinks he'll get away with the crime. The defense calls state case circumstantial.

June 04, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Conn. — A prosecutor in closing arguments told the jury Monday that Michael Skakel was a "spoiled brat" who bragged he could get away with murder for killing his next-door neighbor, Martha Moxley, with a golf club.

Skakel, 41, is accused of murdering Moxley when they were both 15 years old in October 1975. Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

"The defendant for some 27 years has been trying to put spin on what happened," said States Atty. Jonathan Benedict. During the summation, a picture of Moxley smiling and one of her badly battered body were projected on a screen in the courtroom.

"He [Skakel] has spun a web in which he ultimately entrapped himself," Benedict said.

Defense lawyer Michael Sherman painted a far different picture. Sherman told the jury that all the evidence against his client was circumstantial.

"Let's talk about the forensic evidence," Sherman said, pausing for a moment. "Well, that's the end of that."

Sherman said prosecutors over the years had strongly suspected that other people had committed the crime--Skakel's brother Thomas, and later Kenneth Littleton, whom the Skakel family hired as a live-in tutor.

The defense lawyer chided the prosecution for playing "investigative musical chairs."

"Unfortunately for Michael Skakel, when the music stopped, he was put in this chair, the defendant's chair," Sherman said.

Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin this morning.

The prosecution said Skakel started to make incriminating statements soon after Moxley's body was discovered beneath a pine tree on her family's Greenwich, Conn., estate. He allegedly told a barber that he had "killed before."

Benedict reminded jurors of testimony during the trial that Skakel had confided to a family limousine driver in the summer of 1977 that he either had to commit suicide or leave the country because he had done something terrible.

He cited grand jury testimony in 1998, which was introduced during the trial, from a former Skakel classmate, Gregory Coleman, that Skakel had told him in 1978: "I'm going to get away with murder, because I'm a Kennedy."

Coleman died from an overdose of heroin last year.

In his summation, Skakel's lawyer held up and waved copies of tabloids sold in supermarkets.

"This is the state's case," Sherman charged.

"He didn't do it. He doesn't know who did it. He wasn't there when the crime was committed and he didn't confess," Sherman added.

Sherman told the jury that although Skakel had problems as a teenager, "they never rose to the level ... that he became a demonic killer on Halloween."

During his summation, Benedict sought to strike at the heart of Skakel's defense--that he was watching television at his cousin's house miles away when Moxley was killed.

Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, a forensic pathologist called as a defense witness, contended that Moxley died about 10 p.m.--when Skakel was away. Prosecutors said the precise time of the murder could not be determined, estimating that it occurred between 9:30 p.m. Oct. 30 and 5 a.m. Oct. 31.

Prosecutors suggested that Skakel never left his home the night of the murder and that relatives who said he was at his cousin's house were providing him with an alibi.

Benedict played a tape in which Skakel told an author that he panicked the next morning when Dorthy Moxley appeared at his home looking for her daughter.

"How could the sight of Dorthy Moxley create panic in an innocent person?" Benedict asked the jury. "Only a person seeing that poor girl under the tree could create panic."

During the trial, the defense contended that Skakel did not know until morning that Moxley had disappeared.

Benedict said the portion of the golf club carrying identification that the six-iron used in the crime belonged to the Skakel family was never found.

"The piece that is missing has significance only to someone named Skakel," the prosecutor charged. "The murderer made sure to hide forever that part of the club which said where it came from.

"The golf club is not a smoking gun, but it certainly is a warm barrel," Benedict added.

The death of potential witnesses and faulty memories complicated Connecticut's case against Skakel.

In his closing argument, Benedict accused members of Skakel's family of "deliberately suppressing their memories."

"What they truly remember, they simply don't want you to know," the prosecutor said. After declaring his innocence, lawyers for Skakel fought to have him tried in juvenile court. A judge ruled in January 2001 that Skakel should be tried as an adult. If found guilty, he could face life in prison.

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