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Skakel Is Found Guilty of 1975 Moxley Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury on Friday found Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel guilty of murdering neighbor Martha Moxley with a golf club nearly 27 years ago, in a case that relied on circumstantial evidence and reported confessions.

There were no eyewitnesses and no direct physical evidence linking the 41-year-old Skakel to the slaying. He looked surprised, and spectators gasped, when the verdict was announced. Skakel began to shake when the panel was polled and each juror pronounced him guilty.

Moxley’s mother, Dorthy, and brother John--both of whom had testified during the more than three-week-long trial--sat in the front row of the courtroom, hugging and weeping.

After the verdict, which came after three days of deliberations, Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky denied Skakel’s request to speak. His lawyer said later that he had wanted to proclaim his innocence.

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“I am so blessed and so overwhelmed.... This is truly Martha’s day,” Moxley’s mother said with a huge smile. But, her brother added, “Victory doesn’t bring Martha back.”

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy’s, was handcuffed and taken to a correctional institute in Suffield, Conn. He faces 10 years to life in prison when his sentence is imposed July 19.

John Moxley suggested a sentence that “builds upon 27 years and goes up.”

Defense lawyer Michael Sherman called the jury’s decision against Skakel--who like Moxley was 15 at the time of the attack--"the most upsetting verdict I ever had in my life.” He said he would appeal.

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“This is not over. I believe Michael Skakel. He did not do it,” Sherman said.

“It’s nice to say once in a while that justice delayed doesn’t have to mean justice denied,” countered prosecutor Jonathan Benedict.

Moxley’s battered body was found beneath a pine tree on her family’s Greenwich, Conn., estate Oct. 31, 1975.

The attack was so violent the 6-iron used to beat her to death had shattered. The club was traced to a set owned by Skakel’s mother.

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The Skakels and Moxleys were neighbors in the exclusive, gated Belle Haven waterfront enclave. The infamous case became the subject of books by Dominick Dunne, ex-Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman and journalist Tim Dumas. Dunne and Fuhrman attended the trial regularly.

Norwalk’s small, redbrick courthouse was crowded with representatives of 70 news organizations, and the rear parking lot became a tent city of temporary television studios.

The case--which depended completely on circumstantial evidence--rested on simple assumptions of sibling rivalry and jealousy: that Skakel murdered the pretty and popular high school student because she discouraged his advances while flirting with Thomas, his older brother.

At the core of the prosecution’s case were two confessions Skakel allegedly made in the late 1970s while attending a school for troubled youths in Poland Spring, Maine.

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John D. Higgins, a classmate at the Elan School, told the jury that Skakel had sobbed while hazily remembering the night of Moxley’s murder.

Higgins said Skakel told him that a party had occurred at his house and that “he later was in his garage and he was going through some golf clubs. And he related that he was running through some woods, he had a golf club in his hands, he looked up, he saw pine trees. The next thing that he remembers is that he woke up in his house.”

Higgins said Skakel made an escalating series of statements that led to a confession.

“He said that he didn’t know whether he did it; he said that he may have done it, he didn’t know what happened. Eventually he came to the point that he did do it, he must have done it. I did it,” Higgins told the court.

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Testimony also was introduced from Gregory Coleman, who told a grand jury in 1998 and a probable cause hearing in 2001 that Skakel in 1978 explained that he killed Moxley because she “spurned his advances.”

“I am going to get away with murder. I am a Kennedy,” Coleman quoted Skakel as saying.

Coleman died from an overdose of heroin last year. He admitted that he had used the drug shortly before his grand jury testimony.

Jennifer Pease, a classmate at the Elan School, said Coleman told her that Skakel had talked about killing a girl.

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“He said that he had beaten some girl’s head in with a golf club and killed her,” Pease testified.

Skakel did not appear as a witness during the trial.

Defense lawyers contended that he was miles away at a cousin’s house when Moxley was killed. They also sought to cast doubt on a former family tutor and pointed out that the tutor and Thomas Skakel were early suspects in the investigation.

James Dowdle told the court that Skakel had watched television at his home with a group of friends and didn’t leave until 10:50 p.m.

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Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk, a forensic pathologist called by the defense, testified that Moxley had died about 10 p.m.--when Skakel supposedly was at his cousin’s home.

Prosecutors said the precise time of Moxley’s death could not be determined--it could be between 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 and 5 a.m. on Oct. 31--and argued that Skakel could have committed the killing after returning to Belle Haven.

Lawyers for Skakel claimed he went straight to bed after returning from his cousin’s.

But Andrea Shakespeare Renner, a friend of Skakel’s sister Julie, told the court she was sure that Skakel remained at home while others left for his cousin’s house.

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Prosecutors also placed in evidence portions of a tape in which Skakel told a ghostwriter of a book he was planning that he had panicked when Dorthy Moxley knocked on the door of the Skakel home Halloween morning, looking for her daughter.

“How could the sight of Dorthy Moxley create panic in an innocent person?” Benedict asked in closing arguments. “Only a person seeing that poor girl under the tree could create panic.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Key Events in Shakel Case

Oct. 30, 1975 Martha Moxley goes out with friends for the evening and does not return home.

Oct. 31, 1975 Greenwich police begin to consider the disappearance a runaway, but she is found dead in her backyard. The murder weapon is a golf club.

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Nov. 2, 1975 Greenwich police take a set of golf clubs from the Skakel home that matches the murder weapon.

January 1976 Skakel family ends cooperation with authorities.

March 1978 Michael Skakel is arrested for drunken driving in Windham, N.Y.; he avoids prosecution by entering a substance abuse facility, Elan School.

March 1978-February 1980

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Skakel attends Elan and, while there, prosecutors claim, he admits to other students his involvement in Moxley’s slaying.

April 30, 1991: Greenwich police and state of Connecticut reopen investigation.

1993 Dominick Dunne’s book about the case is published, again focusing attention on the 18-year-old murder.

November 1998 A grand jury interviews witnesses, reportedly including former residents and staff of the Elan School; Skakel attorney Michael Sherman moves to suppress their testimony.

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Jan. 19, 2000 Prosecutors announce a warrant has been issued for an unnamed juvenile. Skakel surrenders to Greenwich police, is charged as a juvenile and released after his family posts $500,000 bond.

June 20-21, 28, 2000 At a “probable cause” hearing, witnesses give conflicting testimony as to whether Skakel admitted to the murder while at Elan.

Jan. 31, 2001 Judge Maureen Dennis rules Skakel will be tried as an adult.

May 7, 2002 Trial testimony begins.

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May 16 John Higgins, a former Elan resident, testifies Skakel admitted killing Moxley.

May 21 Prosecution rests its case.

May 22 James Dowdle, the first defense witness, testifies he was with Skakel when police thought Moxley was killed.

May 28 Defense rests.

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June 3 Prosecution and defense give closing arguments.

June 4 Jury deliberations begin.

June 7 Skakel is convicted.

Source: Times research

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