After eight months of living with a rape charge that he has called "a damnable lie," William Kennedy Smith told his side of the story Tuesday, testifying that he was "picked up" by a woman who agreed to have sex with him, and who then hysterically turned on him when she thought she had been spurned.
In the ninth day of testimony in the case, the nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy not only denied raping the 30-year-old woman he met last Easter weekend, but described his accuser as a willing, even aggressive, sexual partner.
He said that she brushed up against him in a Palm Beach bar, offered to drive him home and then eagerly agreed to sex twice after they arrived at the Kennedy estate.
At the same time, Smith portrayed her as a woman who at times seemed disoriented, even delusional, and repeatedly called him "Michael," even after demanding and inspecting his driver's license. During almost five hours on the stand, he called her "kooky," and "someone who was acting very strange."
"I've had a really frightening night," Smith said he later told his cousin, Patrick Kennedy, who with his father, the senator, had been drinking with Smith when he met the woman at the trendy Au Bar.
In her cross-examination, prosecutor Moira K. Lasch pressed Smith on his recollection of the events of the evening, asking him at one point: "Well, what are you, some kind of sex machine, here, Mr. Smith?" She also ridiculed his claim that the woman had tried to pick him up, asking if "she was just overcome by your animal magnetism."
As expected, the most celebrated rape case in recent American history has come down to Smith's word against that of his accuser. The disparity between the accounts offered by Smith, 31, and his accuser during the 10 hours she spent on the witness stand last week were striking.
In tearful, convincing testimony, Smith's accuser had said that he lured her to the family estate early on the morning of March 30 and, after he went for a nude swim, tackled her on the lawn. Despite her screams for him to stop, he then raped her, she said.
Many legal analysts had predicted that Smith would need to make a strong performance as a witness to match the compelling testimony of his accuser last Wednesday and Thursday. And several criminal law specialists said Tuesday after he had finished that they believe he had done well.
"In this heavyweight bout of credibility, there was no knockout," said Frank Kessler, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Palm Beach County. "William Kennedy Smith did as well as the victim," said Paul H. Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who has watched the entire trial on television.
Since other evidence is "equally divided . . . this will put the jury in a quandary," Rothstein said, predicting an acquittal, a hung jury, or a conviction on the lesser, misdemeanor charge of simple battery that also was brought against Smith.
But other lawyers suggested that a conviction is still possible on the strength of the woman's performance and testimony about her bruises and emotional condition after the alleged incident.
The six-member jury is expected to begin deciding the case today after closing arguments.
Where his accuser was passionate, angry and tearful during her testimony, Smith was cool and sometimes seemed detached. Several times he spoke so softly that he had to be asked to repeat his answer and move closer to the microphone.
But his gaze was steady, and he did not become rattled or enraged under the pointed and often sarcastic questioning of the prosecutor. He became most emotional when the subject of his family came up.
"If you're implying that my family is lying to protect me, you're dead wrong," he said, in response to suggestions that family members had tried to coordinate their stories.
In describing how his "awkward, strange" night began, Smith said that he was standing at the bar when he "felt somebody brushing against me . . . standing very close . . . in my personal space."
Small talk with the woman led them to the dance floor, Smith said, where they began to kiss. Although acknowledging that he was attracted to the woman, Smith said: "I was feeling that I had gotten picked up." Before closing time, he said, he saw his uncle and cousin leave the bar and the woman offered him a ride home.
On the way, he testified, he invited her to go for a swim. She agreed, he said. Once at the Kennedy estate, Smith said the woman told him that she had been there before. Inexplicably, she then began calling him "Michael," he testified.
Although the woman has said that she was interested in Smith because she thought his medical knowledge--he was completing his last year of medical school at the time--could help her with her 2-year-old daughter's illnesses, Smith said that the two barely discussed medicine. He also said that she never mentioned a daughter.
Smith said that the tone of the evening changed when he erroneously called her Cathy, while attempting to make love to her.
Smith claimed, however, that they had intercourse only once on the lawn of the estate and that she became incensed and ordered him to "get the hell off me" after he called her by the wrong name.
Smith, who weeks before had ended a long-standing relationship with a woman named Cathy, said that at that point, "she kind of snapped." He said she hit him with her hand, and he rolled away from her as she got up.
"I'm embarrassed," Smith said several times. But he insisted that he had not forced his accuser to have sex. "When she said get off of me, that's exactly what I did," he said.
Smith first gave his version of events during 43 minutes of gentle questioning by defense attorney Roy E. Black. He then spent nearly four more hours on the stand as prosecutor Lasch tried to shake his story with questions that were at turns accusatory, sarcastic and disbelieving.
"You agreed to have sex on the lawn outside of where your mother was sleeping?" Lasch asked. "Yes," Smith replied, adding: "I'm not proud of it."
The defense has described Smith's accuser, an unwed mother, as a drug user with a history of sexual promiscuity. But the jury heard none of that. Neither did the jury hear allegations by three other women that Smith had sexually assaulted them.
Smith seemed to be trying to touch the jury as he described how he has felt since the rape was alleged.
"Miss Lasch, I have searched myself every night since March 30 to figure out why (the accuser) would make an accusation that could destroy my family, destroy my career and possibly send me to jail for 15 years," he said. "I don't know why she would do that."
The defendant was dressed in a blue sport jacket and khaki slacks, a white shirt and a blue and red tie. Behind him in the tiny wood-paneled courtroom were his cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., his cousin's wife, Emily, and Smith's sister, Kym.
As the trial reached its dramatic close, the Palm Beach County Courthouse was encircled by several hundred TV cameramen, legal commentators, curiosity seekers and T-shirt and hot dog vendors.
Reporters interviewed people standing in line for a ticket to the courtroom, legal experts and each other. The crowd listened to the trial on a boom box radio, and booed when prosecutor Lasch asked Smith if he was a "sex machine."
In one corner of the courtroom, retirees in pastel clothing were leaning forward to hear the comments of celebrated trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey as he offered analysis for Courtroom TV Network. "It's not like on Perry Mason," he said.
On Tuesday morning, Judge Mary Lupo granted a defense motion intended to keep the prosecution from attacking Smith with the testimony of three women who claimed that Smith had assaulted them between 1983 and 1988. Over prosecution protests, Lupo said that Smith's credibility could not be impeached with such previous alleged actions, because the defense had not argued that Smith had good character.