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Football Star's Son Stirs Up Skakel Case
Two prosecution witnesses testified Monday that Michael Skakel told them he had climbed a tree on the Moxley property and masturbated the night she was killed - a bizarre tale the state will argue shows Skakel's consciousness of guilt and his attempt to explain any physical evidence found at the scene.
Those witnesses included Michael Meredith, son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, who said Skakel told him the masturbation story during the summer of 1987. Meredith, who did not testify during any of the previous hearings, is the first witness to date the masturbation story earlier than 1991, when Skakel himself told it to private investigators hired by his family "to clear their name," as one witness characterized the effort.
But what the jury may recall more about Meredith's testimony is his combativeness in answering defense attorney Mickey Sherman's questions on cross-examination. At one point he told Sherman, "I can't stand to look at you because you're an ambulance-chasing creep." Meredith described the proceedings as "a circus." Twice when warned by Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. to answer the question put to him, Meredith replied with a flippant "Gotcha."
Meredith, now a filmmaker, admitted to having a lengthy arrest record and a "reckless," drug-addicted youth. He, too, attended the Elan School for troubled teens in Maine, but did not meet Skakel until they worked together on the campaign of Skakel's cousin, Joseph P. Kennedy II, in 1986. Months later, they teamed up to file a class-action lawsuit against Elan, using the Skakel family house as their base of operations during the summer of 1987.
It was Skakel who broached the subject of the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley, Meredith testified.
Meredith said Skakel told him, "`I presume you know about Martha Moxley and her murder. I want you to know unequivocally I'm innocent of that.'"
Skakel went on to relate the story of what he did do that night, Meredith said, including the masturbation tale and that Skakel could see Martha inside the house. Meredith testified that Skakel made it clear he had done this on other occasions, saying he could see Martha when she got dressed, or undressed, or returned from the shower. On this night, Skakel told him, he was interrupted.
"He saw [his brother] Tommy coming across the lawn to Martha's, and said after he saw Tommy he climbed down," Meredith testified.
Meredith said he left the next day, telling Sherman on cross-examination one reason was "the fear factor.
"I felt Michael Skakel had a violence boiling under the skin," Meredith said. "The whole situation became very unsettling to me."
Sherman goaded Meredith, and Meredith oozed sarcasm.
"So why didn't you tell the police?" Sherman pressed.
"You want to know why I didn't call the police and say, `Hey, Michael Skakel said he didn't do it'?"
Sherman confronted him with his grand jury transcript in an effort to highlight that Meredith hadn't indicated then that Skakel on other occasions apparently climbed the tree and masturbated while watching Martha.
"As I said when you were cutting me off ..." Meredith began.
"And I'm cutting you off again," Sherman interjected.
Meredith testified that during the grand jury he was asked only about what Skakel had said he had done that night.
Skakel sat at the defense table and seemed to eye Meredith with contempt, and mouthed something at him when the judge called a recess and left the bench. Skakel appeared agitated and disdainful as he spoke briefly with his lawyers, then walked briskly out of the courtroom.
Andrew Pugh, a former neighbor and close friend of Skakel, was far more subdued as he related the peculiar circumstances surrounding the masturbation story Skakel told him.
The two had lost contact, but ran into each other at a Greenwich church in 1991. Pugh said Skakel wanted to renew their friendship, but he balked, telling Skakel he had concerns about Skakel's possible involvement in Moxley's death.
"He said, `No, I wasn't [involved], but a strange thing happened. I was up in that tree that night masturbating,'" Pugh testified. "I assumed it was the tree where her body was found."
Within weeks of that conversation, Pugh received more than two dozen phone calls from a man who identified himself as being affiliated with the Sutton Associates, a private detective firm. Pugh testified that he knew the firm had been hired by the Skakels "to try to clear their name." Skakel even asked Pugh to meet with Sutton investigators. Pugh said he did not meet with them, and did not renew his friendship with Skakel.
Skakel made no mention of masturbating in the tree in his statements to police after the killing, which occurred before DNA profiling became a powerful crime-solving tool. By the mid-1980s it was being used forensically, but had yet to become as accepted and routine as it is today. Dr. Henry Lee testified earlier in the trial that no semen was recovered from Moxley's body, and if any had been deposited there it probably would have been removed while her assailant was dragging her body to where it was found beneath a tree.
Pugh said that before the killing, "Michael had told me he liked Martha quite a bit and had a crush on her." Pugh had seen them engaged in horseplay and roughhousing, and even kissing on one occasion, but noted that "She didn't seem to be as interested, seemed not to be as enthusiastic."
The prosecution could wrap up its case as early as today - the 11th day of trial. And although prosecutors decided last week not to call Skakel's brother Tommy, the defense team says it will call him for the limited purpose of bolstering Michael Skakel's alibi that he was on the other side of town at the time the killing is most likely to have occurred.
"Anything [Thomas] can do to help his brother he will do," attorney Emanuel Margolis said after court Monday. Margolis, who has represented Thomas Skakel since 1976, was asked whether the state's case has left the jury with reasonable doubt about whether Michael Skakel committed the crime. To convict, the jury must find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"I see a mountain of reasonable doubt," Margolis said. "But I'm not on the jury. If they believe one person and disregard six others, that's their province."
Martha's mother, Dorthy Moxley, after court commended the witnesses who have testified despite having to lay bare their checkered pasts.
"It's hard for them," she said. "They don't want to be here but they've all come forward."
Although Dorthy Moxley is usually stalwart and even cheery, her voice quavered as she spoke about Martha's picture being projected onto the courtroom wall for Pugh to identify.
"They forget about the fact this is about my daughter. She was beautiful," Moxley said. "I was very pleased to see again today this lovely picture of Martha."