Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told a jury Friday how he had taken his son and nephew for a late-night drink March 30 to overcome a melancholy mood, but denied that he heard screams or saw any evidence that his nephew had raped a woman later on the lawn of the family's oceanfront estate.
In the fifth day of the William Kennedy Smith trial, the senator's son Patrick, 24, also took the stand to say that he had seen a woman at the family estate later that night with his cousin. Patrick Kennedy also said that he heard no struggle but was told later by Smith that his "strange friend" was acting in a "bizarre" manner and threatening to call the police.
The testimony provided the first counterpoint from the Kennedy family at the trial to the dramatic account related by Smith's accuser. It neither contradicted nor confirmed crucial parts of her version of the events, but provided extensive detail about the nightclub outing that led to the episode and the rape charges.
In her appearance before the court earlier this week, the 31-year-old Jupiter, Fla., woman described meeting the three Kennedy men at the Au Bar club and later driving Smith home. She testified that Smith tried to grab her as she was going to leave, then chased her across the lawn, tackled her and raped her.
In 45 minutes of testimony that largely followed his earlier sworn statements, the senator choked up and his nephew wept openly as the topic swung to Smith's late father, Stephen Smith.
"I wish I'd gone for a long walk on the beach instead" to relieve the gloom, the 59-year-old Massachusetts Democrat told the panel at another point. "But I went to Au Bar," he said.
Kennedy said he had proposed the visit to shake the mood that had seized him after a post-dinner discussion of his late brother-in-law. Smith, who was William Kennedy Smith's father, had been "another brother," and at his death in August, 1990, "something left all of us."
The eight-month-old rape allegation and the events surrounding it have made the senator the butt of jokes, caused a drop in his standing in the polls and, some say, periled his political future. In his stammering and inconsistent explanations of the evening in earlier comments, he has reminded some of the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, where he failed for nearly half a day to report an auto accident that was fatal to his young female passenger.
But Friday he was concise, coherent, in command. His smooth, almost monotone responses to prosecutor Moira K. Lasch's questions were slowed only at the mention of Stephen Smith and, at another point, a reference to the assassination of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy.
Sen. Kennedy related how he had gone to the nightclub about midnight and had been introduced to Smith's accuser. But later, he and Patrick had come home without Smith, and Kennedy was in bed by 2:30 a.m., he said.
The senator said that his bedroom faced the lawn and that the windows were open on the warm, clear evening. But he said again that he heard nothing of a struggle.
Patrick Kennedy said he had later seen Smith chatting with a person seated in a car in the mansion's parking lot. Only two minutes later, he said, a woman appeared in a doorway of the house and then disappeared with Smith into the study.
He said Smith came to bed later, telling him that the woman had told "bizarre" stories, demanded his driver's license, called him "Michael" and summoned her friends to the house. Two days later, when Patrick Kennedy learned of the rape investigation, Smith told him, "It sounds like a set-up."
Patrick Kennedy said he had not told anyone on Saturday, March 30, of the previous night's events. "In retrospect perhaps I should have told someone. But I didn't know then what I know now," he said.
The emotional high point of Sen. Kennedy's testimony came as he described the after-dinner discussion on one of the estate's patios about Stephen Smith. With the conversation, a "whole range of memories came in an overwhelming wave of emotion," he said.
When lead defense attorney Roy E. Black asked Kennedy to explain again the discussion of the death of Smith, Kennedy stopped, looked down and hesitated for long seconds. He seemed unable to go on.
"I described it earlier," Kennedy finally said, his voice strained and husky.
At the defense table 15 feet from him, William Kennedy Smith brushed the corner of his eyes and wiped his nose. The defendant, who has been largely passive during the trial, took several deep breaths and swallowed hard.
"This was a very special weekend for us," Sen. Kennedy explained, because it was the first time that he had been with Stephen Smith's family since the death of his sister Jean's husband seven months earlier. "We're a very close family," Sen. Kennedy said, as his nephew watched him intently.
Black asked Kennedy to explain his close tie to William Barry, the family friend and former security chief for Robert F. Kennedy who also was at the residence with his family that evening. "Is he not the man who knocked the gun out of Sirhan Sirhan's hand?" asked Black, referring to the assassination of R.F.K. in 1968.
The sympathy generated by the senator's testimony appeared to affect even the prosecutor. Lasch, who earlier in the trial denounced the Kennedy "machine" and spoke of a Chappaquiddick-style "cover-up," seemed awed and respectful.
Two hours after the senator took the stand, his son delivered more than half an hour of testimony in a soft, slow voice.
Some legal observers wondered whether the state had blundered in calling Sen. Kennedy.
"The big question is, why did Sen. Kennedy testify?" asked Frank Kessler, a Palm Beach County defense attorney and former prosecutor. "Maybe Ms. Lasch had a grand scheme there; I don't see it."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times