NORWALK, Conn., June 3 (UPI) -- By David Gurliacci
A coverup by Michael Skakel's family to keep secret his role as the killer of a neighborhood girl was blown by statements Skakel made to a dozen people in the past 26 years that implicate him in the crime, a prosecutor argued today.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict gave his closing arguments in the trial of Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whose son, Robert Kennedy Jr. sat in the courtroom for some of the arguments. Skakel's lawyer, Michael Sherman, argued that the state's witnesses added little to a case which lacks forensic evidence and has very little physical evidence.
"There is no forensic evidence. There is no physical evidence," Sherman told a jury of six women and six men. "And it's not a result of the Kennedy-Skakel family conspiracy, as you will find out."
After jurors heard closing arguments, Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. gave them instructions in the law. The jury is scheduled to start deliberations at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the small courthouse.
Skakel faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of killing Martha Moxley, a neighbor of his in 1975, when both were 15 years old.
Benedict told jurors they either could believe Skakel's alibi, offered by several members of his family, that he left the neighborhood with his brothers and a cousin to watch a 10 p.m. television program, or they could believe that Skakel stuck around as his "nemesis" of an older brother, Thomas, flirted with Moxley, with whom Michael Skakel was enamored.
"She was drawn into the vortex of the competing hormones of two of the young boys who lived across Walsh Lane," Benedict said. Within a few years of the crime, he said, Michael Skakel "was an alcoholic, a substance abuser, ... beyond the control of his family, (and) he was becoming suicidal."
Moxley's murder may have taken place around 10 p.m., as defense witness and former Houston medical examiner Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk calculated, or it may have taken place later that night, Benedict said.
Various Skakel family members, relatives and friends who testified had suspiciously poor memories of a significant night in their family's history, Benedict said. Other witnesses at the trial had memories that had understandably faded over time or become unreliable on small details, but the Skakels had hardly any memories of that night, he reminded the jury.
Benedict pointed out that other prime suspects in the case -- Thomas Skakel and the Skakel family's live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton -- were both seen by Andrea Shakespeare Renna, a teenage friend of the family, just before she left the house that night. Each was seen by witnesses before 11 p.m. without any blood on their clothing "nor a hair out of place," Benedict said.
The fact that the one missing piece of the golf club used to kill Moxley was the piece with a label on it identifying it as from the Skakel household points to a member of that household as the murderer, the prosecutor said. Michael Skakel, Benedict said later in his statement, was the only child in that household who did not go to school the next day.
Within a couple of years of the murder, Benedict said, Michael Skakel had said in the presence of a barber "I've killed before," and told the family chauffeur that he had done something so bad that he should kill himself or leave the country, and that the chauffeur, if he knew what it was, would never speak to him again.
When Skakel went to the Elan school in Poland Springs, Me., from 1978 to 1980, he made outright confessions to two other students at various times -- Greg Coleman and John Higgins.
Coleman, a drug addict who died of an overdose of heroin before the trial started, may have been wrong in some particulars of what he remembered, but a fellow student at Elan testified that Coleman told her about Skakel's confession, Benedict reminded the jury. Coleman's former wife testified that Coleman mentioned Skakel's confession to her in the early 1980s, he said.
At other points, Skakel made incriminating statements to other students, sometimes saying that he didn't know what happened that night because he was in an alcohol-induced blackout and therefore may have committed the murder, Benedict said.
And when, in 1991, DNA testing became available, Skakel came up with a story about masturbating in a tree near the Moxley home on the night of the murder, Benedict said. The story must have been to cover for Skakel's masturbating near the body and later fearing that he had left semen on it which would incriminate him, the prosecutor said. But, he said, Skakel didn't know that no DNA evidence was found on the body.
When Skakel was planning to publish his autobiography several years ago, he spoke in taped sessions with a ghostwriter, Richard Hoffman of Boston. Benedict replayed part of a tape that had earlier been put into evidence, and simultaneously showed a text of the tape on a screen in the courtroom.
Unlike other witnesses whose memory has faded, Skakel remembered what alcoholic drinks he had the night of the murder and gave a detailed account of what happened that night, Benedict said.
"He continues to narrate the evening as if it took place in 2001 rather than 20 years ago, despite the fact that he was both drunk and high," Benedict said. "He (seems) to recall with clarity what he did the rest of that night step by step. It brings to mind the phrase 'to good to be true.'"
Sherman's 90-minute summation was devoted to poking holes in Benedict's witnesses and conclusions.
"Michael Skakel is a 15-year-old kid tormented, troubled, whatever -- he is still 15 years old," Sherman said. "How is he going to have the presence of mind, the ability to get rid of all that blood? ... Anybody who committed this crime had to have been covered with blood."
If jurors believe Skakel was at his cousin's home and returned only after the television program was over at 10:30 p.m., then they must believe that Martha Moxley had seriously gone past her curfew that night for Michael Skakel to be the killer, Sherman said. But that wasn't the type of thing Moxley did, he said.
Many of the state witnesses had suffered from the "I Love Lucy" syndrome, Sherman said. "Everybody wants to get in on the act, though they don't necessarily want to get up on this witness stand, but this is a great topic -- if you are in the bank, if you're at a party, if you're at a bar, if you're cutting somebody's hair -- to be able to tell your Skakel story."
The barber, the former chauffeur and some other witnesses fit that description, Sherman said.
Sherman said that Coleman was unreliable. He reminded jurors of Coleman's testimony that the first words he ever heard from Skakel were that Skakel murdered a kid and would get away with it because he was a Kennedy.
Higgins, described as untrustworthy by other witnesses from Elan, had testified that Skakel told him the golf club used to kill Moxley was part of a set in the family garage. But there was no family garage, and if Higgins got that wrong, it shows he too is unreliable, Sherman said.
"I will admit that Michael Skakel engaged in weird behavior, he may have been an immature kid, he may have had a tough relationship with his father," Sherman said, "but to build the bridge that he committed a murder based on that, based on Coleman's, based on Higgins' (testimony) -- it is not there."
Sherman heaped scorn on Benedict's assertion that Skakel family members had engaged in a conspiracy to cover up Michael Skakel's role, concocting the visit to the cousin's home and concealing evidence. Two Skakel brothers, John and David, have no memory of where Michael was that night, he pointed out. David "must have missed the meeting" where the conspiracy was planned, Sherman said.
At least two witnesses said on the stand that they had read Mark Fuhrman's book about the Moxley case. Fuhrman -- who sat in the courtroom, along with two other authors of books related to the case -- appeared to have tainted the memories of the witnesses, Sherman said.
The murderer of Martha Moxley was "more than disturbed ... more than someone who had a crush on somebody," Sherman said. That person was "someone who was insane and nasty and mean-spirited -- and none of that has been described as Michael Skakel. Michael Skakel had some problems, but they never, never rose to the level of what Mr. Benedict would have you believe, that he became a demonic killer one night on Halloween."