ShareThis Page
Testimony begins in Skakel trial |

Testimony begins in Skakel trial

NORWALK, Conn. — In a case that could open a window onto a world of wealth and influence, Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel went on trial Tuesday in the 1975 murder of a teen-age neighbor, with prosecutors saying he admitted to the crime in the 27 years since.

Skakel, 41, is accused of beating Martha Moxley to death with a golf club in the rich community of Greenwich when both were 15.

In opening statements, prosecutor Jonathan Benedict told the jury it will hear from several witnesses who talked with Skakel about the killing, which occurred on Mischief Night, the night before Halloween.

“Some people can’t keep a secret, as it turns out he’s been talking about his night of mischief since at least the spring of 1978,” Benedict said. He said the evidence will include both explicit and partial admissions.

“Some of these partial admissions as you hear them may indeed seem to you to be innocent and ambiguous,” but taken together they will show Skakel committed the crime, he said.

The defense warned the jury not to get caught up in the emotions of the case and said the physical evidence against Skakel was “zilch.”

“You’ll see they have a lot of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” defense attorney Michael Sherman said. “But the problem is, the jigsaw pieces don’t fit.”

The case went unsolved for years, giving rise to suspicions that wealth, privilege and the Kennedy connection had somehow protected Skakel. But the slaying regained attention after several books were written about it.

The prosecutor told jurors they would hear evidence that the Skakel family made a “concerted effort” to hide Skakel’s guilt from police. Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy.

Sherman rejected any suggestion of a cover-up, saying Skakel’s father opened his home to police.

The passage of time has done much to cloud the high-profile case. Two key witnesses have died, and investigators have grown old and retired. There are no eyewitnesses to the killing and limited forensic evidence.

Skakel, who has grown from a pudgy teen with drug problems into a divorced father and recovering alcoholic, did not comment as he entered court yesterday. None of his Kennedy relatives showed up for the first day of testimony.

The case took a long and twisting path to reach the courtroom, with Skakel arrested two years ago after an investigation by a judge acting as a one-man grand jury. Skakel’s lawyers had argued that he should be tried as a juvenile, which could have meant no punishment at all if he had been convicted, since he is too old to be sent to a juvenile prison.

The case was transferred instead to adult court. If convicted, Skakel could get life in prison.

Martha’s body was discovered beneath a tree on the family’s Greenwich property, beaten with a golf club that investigators said matched a set in the Skakel household.

The victim’s mother and brother, Dorthy and John Moxley, were the first two witnesses called yesterday. They described their frantic efforts to find Martha.

Dorthy Moxley said she went to the Skakel house Halloween morning looking for Martha, and Skakel opened the door. She said he appeared “hung over.”

Sherman questioned Moxley about statements to authorities in which she said she heard barking dogs and teen-age voices the night of the killing. Moxley said she could not recall whether she told authorities she had heard Martha’s voice.

“After Martha died, I was like a zombie,” she said. “I just barely functioned.”

The Moxleys left the courthouse just before graphic pictures of the crime scene were shown. John Moxley said the family would not return to the trial until all the forensic evidence had been presented.

“We just don’t need to see that,” he said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.