James A. Boyle, the former country lawyer who became the judge who presided over the inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick, has died at the age of 81.
Boyle died at home Tuesday after a long illness, his wife, Esther, said.
Boyle was a Superior Court clerk and special justice to the Dukes County District Court in Martha's Vineyard until he was appointed presiding judge of the District Court in 1961.
Miss Kopechne, 28, a former campaign worker for Robert F. Kennedy, drowned after a car driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy went off a narrow bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and plunged into a pond on July 18, 1969.
Boyle's April 29, 1970, report on the death formally closed the case, but questions about the car accident and Kennedy's involvement have continued to plague the Massachusetts Democrat who at the time was widely expected to run for President in 1972.
Kennedy, who managed to get out of the car after what he said were repeated attempts to free Miss Kopechne, pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Boyle gave him a suspended two-month jail sentence.
In his final report, Boyle found "probable cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently on a way, roadway or in a place . . . and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne," but no further charges were filed against the senator.
The judge, who retired from the bench shortly after issuing the report, was quiet about his involvement in the case in later years.
"He didn't say a word to us about it," said his son, James A. Boyle Jr.