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Skakel Defense: Doubt Is Cast
Witnesses on the final day of the defense case in the Michael Skakel murder trial fixed the time of Martha Moxley's death at approximately 10 p.m. and placed Michael Skakel at a cousin's house 20 miles away at that same time.
But what would seem a triumphant end to a defense based on actual innocence was marred by imprecision - of both memory and science.
Skakel's brother John Skakel parted ways with other relatives who vividly remember Michael Skakel's coming along on the drive to take his cousin Jimmy Terrien home and to watch "Monty Python's Flying Circus" at 10 p.m. the night Moxley was bludgeoned to death.
John Skakel testified he had no recollection independent of the statement he gave police in 1975, when he said he, Michael, their brother Rushton Skakel Jr. and Jimmy Terrien piled into a car at the Skakel home about 9:30 p.m. to go to the Terrien home in Greenwich's "back country."
"I'd love nothing more than to have a clearer memory, but that's the way it is," John Skakel testified Tuesday.
But one thing John Skakel said he does have a vivid memory of is being awakened at precisely 11:33 p.m. that night of Oct. 30, 1975, by noise in the mud room, located near his first-floor bedroom. The mud room is where Greenwich police found golf clubs belonging to the same set as the murder weapon, a six iron, owned by Skakel's late mother.
When John Skakel testified at the grand jury investigation in 1998, he referred investigators to his 1975 statement to police, and declined to speculate or guess as to what had happened 23 years earlier. His reasons for forgetting were due to more than the passage of time, he testified Tuesday. There was a desire to forget as well.
"We've been nothing but skewered in the press for 26 years," John Skakel said. "Just the cumulative effect of us being trashed for 26 years, as a family."
Indeed, in a strategy worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, defense attorney Mickey Sherman again highlighted that a number of suspects were considered before Michael Skakel, including Skakel's brother Tommy.
Retired Greenwich Police Det. James Lunney testified that he had helped draft an arrest warrant application targeting Tommy Skakel as the killer in 1976. Prosecutors at the time deemed the warrant application insufficient and refused to place it before a judge for consideration.
Lunney also testified that Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton at one time was a prime suspect, furthering Sherman's efforts to plant reasonable doubt about Michael Skakel's culpability in the minds of jurors. Lunney served yet another purpose for the defense - illustrating that the Skakel family appeared to cooperate fully in the investigation, from opening their home to a search by police to making all the Skakel children available for police interviews.
The prosecution used Lunney to get into evidence Michael Skakel's statements to police approximately two weeks after the murder, in which he said he did not leave the house once he returned with his brothers from Jimmy Terrien's at about 10:30 or 11 p.m. But prosecution witnesses say Michael Skakel told them he went back out that night and masturbated in a tree on the Moxley property. Sherman does not contest this.
"It isn't exactly the best-kept secret that Michael went out in the tree and masturbated," Sherman said after court Tuesday. "He did not tell [police]. No question about it. That's no great shock."
Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, former chief medical examiner for Harris County, Texas, testified he reviewed information supplied to him by Greenwich police in late 1975 and fixed the time of death at about 10 p.m. Jachimczyk testified he factored into his equation not only Moxley's stomach contents and digestion and rigor mortis, but information concerning the curfew she supposedly had that night and the agitated barking of dogs at about 10 p.m.
Jachimczyk acknowledged on cross-examination that it is difficult to pinpoint a time of death from rigor mortis alone. "Oh, this isn't a precision type of thing; it's a range," he said.
When the doctor's testimony was completed, Sherman announced at 3:32 p.m., "We rest, your honor."
The state is expected to present three or four rebuttal witnesses today, then lawyers for both sides will meet with Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. to discuss his instructions, or "charge," to the jury. Final arguments in the case are expected Thursday morning, followed by the judge's instructions on the law. The jury of six men and six women could begin deliberating Skakel's fate Thursday afternoon.
Skakel wanted to testify, Sherman said, but did not. "It was my call," Sherman said after court.
He expressed confidence in Skakel's case and the likelihood of an acquittal.
"I think we reached more than reasonable doubt," he said after court. "I think we proved actual innocence." But, he noted, "I don't pretend to say, `Wow. It's in the bag."'