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Skakel Is Found Guilty of 1975 Moxley Murder

Verdict: The trial of the Kennedy cousin in the girl's slaying turned on circumstantial evidence.

June 08, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Conn. — A jury on Friday found Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel guilty of murdering neighbor Martha Moxley with a golf club nearly 27 years ago, in a case that relied on circumstantial evidence and reported confessions.

There were no eyewitnesses and no direct physical evidence linking the 41-year-old Skakel to the slaying. He looked surprised, and spectators gasped, when the verdict was announced. Skakel began to shake when the panel was polled and each juror pronounced him guilty.

Moxley's mother, Dorthy, and brother John--both of whom had testified during the more than three-week-long trial--sat in the front row of the courtroom, hugging and weeping.

After the verdict, which came after three days of deliberations, Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky denied Skakel's request to speak. His lawyer said later that he had wanted to proclaim his innocence.

"I am so blessed and so overwhelmed.... This is truly Martha's day," Moxley's mother said with a huge smile. But, her brother added, "Victory doesn't bring Martha back."

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy's, was handcuffed and taken to a correctional institute in Suffield, Conn. He faces 10 years to life in prison when his sentence is imposed July 19.

John Moxley suggested a sentence that "builds upon 27 years and goes up."

Defense lawyer Michael Sherman called the jury's decision against Skakel--who like Moxley was 15 at the time of the attack--"the most upsetting verdict I ever had in my life." He said he would appeal.

"This is not over. I believe Michael Skakel. He did not do it," Sherman said.

"It's nice to say once in a while that justice delayed doesn't have to mean justice denied," countered prosecutor Jonathan Benedict.

Moxley's battered body was found beneath a pine tree on her family's Greenwich, Conn., estate Oct. 31, 1975.

The attack was so violent the 6-iron used to beat her to death had shattered. The club was traced to a set owned by Skakel's mother.

The Skakels and Moxleys were neighbors in the exclusive, gated Belle Haven waterfront enclave. The infamous case became the subject of books by Dominick Dunne, ex-Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman and journalist Tim Dumas. Dunne and Fuhrman attended the trial regularly.

Norwalk's small, redbrick courthouse was crowded with representatives of 70 news organizations, and the rear parking lot became a tent city of temporary television studios.

The case--which depended completely on circumstantial evidence--rested on simple assumptions of sibling rivalry and jealousy: that Skakel murdered the pretty and popular high school student because she discouraged his advances while flirting with Thomas, his older brother.

At the core of the prosecution's case were two confessions Skakel allegedly made in the late 1970s while attending a school for troubled youths in Poland Spring, Maine.

John D. Higgins, a classmate at the Elan School, told the jury that Skakel had sobbed while hazily remembering the night of Moxley's murder.

Higgins said Skakel told him that a party had occurred at his house and that "he later was in his garage and he was going through some golf clubs. And he related that he was running through some woods, he had a golf club in his hands, he looked up, he saw pine trees. The next thing that he remembers is that he woke up in his house."

Higgins said Skakel made an escalating series of statements that led to a confession.

"He said that he didn't know whether he did it; he said that he may have done it, he didn't know what happened. Eventually he came to the point that he did do it, he must have done it. I did it," Higgins told the court.

Testimony also was introduced from Gregory Coleman, who told a grand jury in 1998 and a probable cause hearing in 2001 that Skakel in 1978 explained that he killed Moxley because she "spurned his advances."

"I am going to get away with murder. I am a Kennedy," Coleman quoted Skakel as saying.

Coleman died from an overdose of heroin last year. He admitted that he had used the drug shortly before his grand jury testimony.

Jennifer Pease, a classmate at the Elan School, said Coleman told her that Skakel had talked about killing a girl.

"He said that he had beaten some girl's head in with a golf club and killed her," Pease testified.

Skakel did not appear as a witness during the trial.

Defense lawyers contended that he was miles away at a cousin's house when Moxley was killed. They also sought to cast doubt on a former family tutor and pointed out that the tutor and Thomas Skakel were early suspects in the investigation.

James Dowdle told the court that Skakel had watched television at his home with a group of friends and didn't leave until 10:50 p.m.

Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, a forensic pathologist called by the defense, testified that Moxley had died about 10 p.m.--when Skakel supposedly was at his cousin's home.

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