Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) spent an hour and 20 minutes Friday testifying before a Palm Beach County grand jury investigating obstruction of justice allegations stemming from the rape case of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith.
Kennedy, the first subpoenaed witness to appear before the panel, is not a target of the investigation, Palm Beach County State Atty. David H. Bludworth said.
The probe is centered on longtime Kennedy family friend and former FBI agent William Barry. “He’s the only target,” Bludworth’s administrative assistant Jack Freese said.
Barry twice met police at the door of the Kennedy compound the day after a 29-year-old Jupiter, Fla., woman told police Smith raped her on the lawn of the seaside estate last Easter weekend. Police contend Barry made misleading statements which allowed both the senator and Smith to leave town before they could be questioned.
Smith was later charged with rape and battery of the woman, whom he met in a Palm Beach bar after going out for a drink with his uncle and his cousin Patrick, Kennedy’s son. Smith has pleaded innocent to the charges, and is to go on trial Jan. 13.
Kennedy has acknowledged that he twice failed to respond to police inquiries that weekend. He said he did not know police were investigating possible rape charges against his 30-year-old nephew.
Kennedy walked into the Palm Beach County Courthouse shortly after 10 a.m. Friday. “The process moves along. We hope to get a timely conclusion,” he told reporters.
The decision to take the possible obstruction of justice case to the grand jury rather than file charges directly may reflect Bludworth’s desire to proceed cautiously in opening a second line of inquiry in a celebrated case which has received intense media scrutiny.
In two visits to the Kennedy estate on March 31, police did not mention to Barry the accusation of sexual battery which had been made the day before by the woman. Instead, police first asked Barry about an urn the alleged victim said she took from the house. When asked about the whereabouts of Kennedy and Smith, Barry told police he was not sure where they were.
Later, police said, Barry misled them by indicating that both Smith and Kennedy had left town, when in fact Kennedy had not.
In a statement issued April 16, Barry said: “I did not attempt to mislead anybody.”
Kennedy’s appearance before the grand jury ends any speculation that he, too, could have been a target of the probe. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have been subpoenaed,” Freese said. “He has immunity.”
Kennedy was preceded in the grand jury room by police officers investigating the case.
Obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In the case against Smith, meanwhile, Judge Mary Lupo has halted a further release of pretrial depositions until a hearing Tuesday on an emergency motion by defense attorneys who claim the materials are prejudicial.