Longtime Family Friend Comes to Skakels' Defense
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time
Originally Printed: Sunday Feb. 7, 1999

Some witnesses who have gone before the Martha Moxley grand jury may indeed believe they heard Michael Skakel make incriminating statements about the Greenwich teenager's 1975 murder, according to a friend of the suspect's family.

But whatever those witnesses thought they heard were more likely utterances Skakel made under duress, while being pressured by fellow residents of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center about his brother Tommy, said Benjamin Works, a New York City-based foreign affairs consultant and Skakel family friend for more than three decades.

"The boys there had a fixation that Tommy committed the murder, so they started beating the pulp out of Michael in the boxing ring to get him to confess that his brother committed the murder," Works said. "This went on for weeks, and they finally decided that if Michael kept standing up for his brother, then he must've done it. Because this was under duress - what was essentially torture over time - whatever they thought was a confession they wrung out of Michael is absolutely meaningless. But yeah, they thought they heard a confession."

Works said he has come forward as an unofficial spokesman for the Skakel family. Both Thomas and Michael Skakel, who were Moxley's neighbors and with her the night she was killed, are suspects in the case. They have maintained their innocence. "I am doing this voluntarily," Works said. "I've not been authorized by the family to be their spokesman, but I'm their advocate with their assent because I know the (Skakel) boys to be innocent, and I know an increasing amount of details."

Now executive director of Strategic Issues Research Institute, a New York City foreign affairs think tank, Works has recently appeared on television programs about the Moxley case to defend the Skakels. Appearing with him on one show was former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, who claims the book he authored last year about the Moxley case shed new light on the murder and caused the grand jury to be convened. Believing Michael Skakel to be the probable killer, Fuhrman dismissed Works as a "media spin doctor."

He said of the Skakel friend, "He's got no personal knowledge about the case except for what he's been told, and when he's told something he takes it as gospel just because it comes from a member of the Skakel family or one of their legal representatives."

One of those legal representatives, Michael Sherman, a lawyer for Michael Skakel, acknowledged he is aware of Works' activities. "I know who he is and what he is doing, and I have no quarrel with him, that's for sure. He's just trying to do his best to paint a more accurate picture of what has happened," Sherman said. "Obviously, he has his opinions and his sources, but it would not be appropriate for me to either endorse or not endorse what he has to say."

"I think the Skakels keep getting pounded (in the media), and maybe they are just sick of not answering back," said Timothy Dumas, the author of another book about the case, who appeared with Works on another recent television show. In court affidavits, prosecutors said they have been informed that Michael Skakel "made admissions" about the murder in response to confrontations by Joseph Ricci, owner of Elan School, the Poland Spring, Maine, rehab center Michael entered in 1978.

Ricci on Thursday said it was "not impossible" that Michael Skakel's alleged admissions concerning the Moxley murder came about as Works said. But Ricci, who has been subpoenaed by the grand jury, said he knew of neither incriminating statements nor a confession made by Skakel. "This is all nothing more than a lot of rumor and speculation," said Ricci, who is fighting the subpoena on the grounds anything said by Elan School residents is privileged information. "It's all guilt by rumor with not one hard-core piece of proof."

In an interview last week, a man who was at Elan School for treatment of a drug problem in 1978 said he knew of only one time Skakel was made to box, but that it was for "an unrelated matter." The former rehab resident, who requested anonymity, said, "Michael was never put into the ring for anything that had to do with this murder. Michael was never forced through any means to make a false confession."

Elan School officials have said their treatment program relied extensively on peer pressure techniques, one of which involved boxing to try to correct poor attitudes among residents.

Works also said the Skakel brothers had not necessarily changed their alibis when they were interviewed by a private detective agency in 1992, as prosecutors have alleged in court papers, but had added potentially embarrassing details they had previously omitted.

According to the affidavits, Thomas, who in 1975 told police he left Moxley the night of the murder to do homework inside his house, told the private investigators that after briefly going inside his house, he went back out and had a sexual encounter with the victim. The affidavits say Michael revised his story to say he wasn't in bed at a certain time but had climbed a tree outside Moxley's bedroom window and threw rocks at it to get the girl's attention, then masturbated in the tree before returning home through what was later determined to be the crime scene.

"As adults, they can essentially come to fuller terms with themselves," Works said. According to Works, Thomas Skakel did not tell police about his tryst with the victim because "he didn't want to hurt her reputation." He added, "You're talking about a teenaged kid here. At the moment of death, he's going to say he was outside petting?"

And as for Michael Skakel, Works said, "Again, you're talking about a kid. If you were 15 years old, are you going to confess to climbing a tree and (masturbating)?"

Works, 49, said he is speaking on the Skakel brothers' behalf because he believes misguided prosecutors are allowing Moxley's actual killer to go free. "I am convinced that the killer is alive and out there, and is laughing at the whole thing," Works said last week. "I know both these guys, and neither Tommy or Michael have the type of personality for that type of brutality."

Works said the national media attention to the case comes because the suspects are nephews of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy's widow. After graduating from Greenwich High School in 1968, Works served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam until 1971 and graduated from Yale University in 1974. The following summer, he and his good friend George Skakel III, also a Greenwich resident, decided they would be big brothers to George Skakel's cousins Thomas and Michael Skakel, as well as their two younger brothers. The seven Skakel children had lost their mother to cancer two years earlier, and their father, Rushton Skakel Sr., was frequently out of town.

"George and I started spending a lot of time with them as adult mentors," Works said. "In the summer of '75, I was between jobs, and Rushton's house was wide open and the boys needed adult companionship. I was 25 then, and for me it was sort of like playing uncle."

After leaving town in 1976 to work for a Boston investment management firm, Works said he maintained contact with the Skakels, professionally by managing their portfolios, and socially by skiing and hunting at the Skakels' other home in Windham, N.Y.

According to Works, the Skakels have been unfairly blamed by authorities for not cooperating with the investigation because their attorneys have blocked access to family members since early 1976. "If you go back to 1975, the truth of the matter was the police were in the Skakel house for three months, having free run collecting a full evidentiary package," Works said.

"As for Tommy, the minute word of the murder came out, the police went to the Skakel house and asked for Tom to come down to the police station, and he went on his own, voluntarily, and for five hours without an attorney, his father or any adult present, cooperated in an intense way.

"The cooperation ended in late January (1976) because the police had exhausted any possible need for anything more from them," Works said. "They recognized the police were flailing around blindly and started to dwell on the wrong people, so an experienced trial lawyer had to come to the decision that if my people are being suspected, then I have to revert to the law" and not allow further questioning unless charges are filed.