By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer
Greenwich Time, April 21, 1998
Citing a potential conflict based on a passage from "Greentown, Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community," Browne retired from the 23-year-old unsolved murder case on Thursday. He is succeeded by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who will decide whether to prosecute or drop the case for lack of evidence.
Benedict said Browne's departure would not slow the investigation, but might in fact lead to a quicker resolution. "The question now is whether or not there is enough hard evidence - unambiguous, credible evidence - to warrant a reasonable expectation that the state, at trial, could satisfy its burden," he said.
Moxley, 15, was bludgeoned and stabbed with a golf club the evening of Oct. 30, 1975, and her body was found the following afternoon under a tree on her family's Walsh Lane estate. The last known person to see her alive was then-17- year-old Thomas Skakel, a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy. Police identified the murder weapon as a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family. No one has ever been charged with the murder, although Skakel and his younger brother, Michael, have been under suspicion for years.
In "Greentown," author Timothy Dumas offers speculation by unnamed journalists that Browne may have been "paid off" to not vigorously pursue Moxley's killer. but Dumas further notes it was Browne who decided in 1991 to reinvestigate the homicide, after Greenwich Time published a story detailing the case and the reasons why no arrest had been made.
Dumas said he does not believe Browne was bribed, explaining he included the speculation because it demonstrated people's perception of the case, and was therefore relevant to the story. "I have always thought that rumors were an interesting part of the story, and in the book I tried to debunk a lot of them, including that one," Dumas said. "However, I'm glad he is no longer on the case .. What we need is a prosecutor who's more aggressive than he is."
Browne, as state's attorney for the Fairfield Judicial District, supervised the Moxley investigation from nearly the beginning. He retired in October, but was retained by successor Benedict as unpaid special prosecutor for the Moxley matter. He had been expected to decide within a month whether to prosecute or abandon the case.
Browne last week said he withdrew from the case because the passages in "Greentown" posed potential problems for him. "If I proceeded to indict as prosecutor, I am leaving myself exposed as having done it to avoid the perception I have been paid off," he said. "If I don't, then the perception is I have already been paid off."
Retired Greenwich detective Stephen Carroll, who had been the senior local investigator on the Moxley case before retiring in 1978, did not buy Browne's explanation. "I think it's a big excuse," he said. "He could clear his name. I think he's a chicken."
Carroll said he was please with Browne's departure, adding, "The only positive thing he's done in 22 years is to get off the case. I would hope that it would have a positive effect."
Benedict's comments about Browne's leaving seemed to bolster Carroll's hopes. "If anything, I think things might go along quicker than they have," the prosecutor said yesterday. "I do want to try to bring (the investigation) to some sort of resolution, if at all possible."
Benedict would not say whether a prosecution is likely, but said he would make an announcement soon - one way or another.