Mother recalls search for Martha.
Skakel trial opens with testimony from victim's kin.
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time

NORWALK -- More than 26 years after the slaying of a teenage girl shocked Greenwich, a jury finally heard testimony yesterday from several witnesses in the state's case against Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin on trial for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.

Moxley, then a sophomore at Greenwich High School, was found in her family's yard on Oct. 31, beaten to death with a custom-made golf club linked to the Skakel household. Moxley and Skakel, both 15 at the time of the slaying, were friends and neighbors in Belle Haven. Skakel is now 41.

The case, which centers largely on circumstantial evidence, went unsolved for many years, giving rise to speculation that the Kennedy and Skakel families, linked by the marriage of Ethel Skakel and the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, had covered up for one of their own.

No members of the Kennedy family appeared at state Superior Court in Norwalk for the first day of the trial, which was attended by Skakel's brothers Steven and Rushton Jr., his sister, Julie, and more than 60 journalists and friends of the Moxley family.

During yesterday's opening statements, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict explained the facts of the case to the 12 jurors and four alternates, and told them they would hear testimony from several witnesses who say Skakel confessed to the crime that happened the night before Halloween, known as "Mischief Night."

"Sometimes some people simply cannot keep a secret," Benedict told the jury. "As it turns out, he has been talking about his night of mischief since at least the spring of 1978."

The prosecution is expected to call several witnesses from the Maine-based Elan School, a substance abuse center Skakel attended in the late 1970s, where several classmates claimed he confessed to killing Moxley.

Benedict also told the jury they will hear evidence of a "concerted effort on the part of the Skakel family in the guise of cooperating with the investigation to prevent the discovery of the actual murderer of Martha Moxley."

The young men in the Skakel family, which consisted of six boys and one girl, and their Greenwich cousin James Terrien, who is expected to testify, were "abruptly and mysteriously" sent away the weekend after the killing, he said.

Defense attorney Michael Sherman told the jury that the physical evidence against his client is "zilch."

"You will see that they have a lot of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but the problem is the jigsaw puzzle pieces don't fit," Sherman said. "And you can't shave the sides of them."

Sherman, who rejected any notion of a cover-up, accused several of the state's key witnesses of suffering from what he referred to as the "I Love Lucy" syndrome.

"Every week Lucy and Ethel wanted to get into the act," Sherman said. "You will find people who have no logical explanation of why they were telling a story other than they wanted to be part of the show. It's a heck of a show; you can't deny that."

The case, with its connection to the Kennedy family and allusions to money, fame and notoriety, generated three best-selling books.

Skakel became a suspect after a private investigators' report became public in which he and his brother Thomas changed their accounts of the evening Moxley died. He was arrested in January 2000 after an 18-month grand jury investigation.

On the first day of testimony, the jury heard from Dorthy Moxley, Martha's mother, and John Moxley, her brother.

They also heard from Martha Moxley's friend Sheila McGuire, who found Martha's body in the family's yard on Oct. 31, 1975.

Dan Hickman, the first officer on the scene, offered his testimony, as did former Police Chief Thomas Keegan, who served as the head of the detective division at the time of the slaying.

Keegan will continue his testimony today.

Dorthy and John Moxley described their failed efforts to find Martha on the night of Oct. 30. Dorthy Moxley recalled going to the Skakel home the next morning and speaking with Michael Skakel, who she said appeared "hungover."

Dorthy Moxley also recalled speaking with Martha's friend Helen Ix, who accompanied Martha to the Skakel house on the night of her death, and to Terrien's mother.

Although she and her husband were friendly with the family patriarch, Rushton Skakel Sr., Dorthy Moxley said she did not know her daughter even knew his sons Michael and Thomas Skakel.

Dorthy Moxley remembered hearing a "commotion" outside her home between 9:30 and 10 p.m. on the night of her daughter's death.

Sherman is likely to offer evidence that if the crime happened about that time, Michael Skakel was at his cousin's home in backcountry Greenwich and could not have committed the crime.

Early on, Sherman objected to the state's continuous projection of Martha Moxley's photo on a big screen, saying the photo would provoke jurors' sympathy.

Prosecutors agreed to take the photo off the screen.

Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. also decided to allow the state to admit portions of Martha Moxley's diary, in which she referred to Michael Skakel with an expletive and said she really needed to stop going to the Skakel house.

Sherman unsuccessfully objected to the diary's admission.

In the early afternoon, McGuire testified about her search for and discovery of Martha's body in a wooded area behind the Moxley house.

"I didn't see anything at first. I went through the grotto and was calling out for Martha. I went and looked back on the path I had taken," McGuire said of her travels from her home through the Moxley yard. "I saw something. When I came right upon it, I discovered it was Martha."

The jury viewed several explicit photographs of Martha's bludgeoned body. As they passed the photos, several of the panelists appeared shaken.

Skakel, who on several occasions pointed to the projected photographs and maps from his seat, appeared agitated at moments.

"He is an animated person by nature," Sherman later said of his client.

Hickman offered controversial testimony, recalling a piece of golf club sticking out from the victim's neck when he arrived at the scene.

Hickman, who was the only one at the scene to assert the missing piece of club was there, first went public with the information in the 1998 publication "Murder in Greenwich," written by former Los Angeles Police detective Mark Fuhrman. Fuhrman attended the trial yesterday.

After Hickman's testimony, the state again called McGuire into the courtroom to corroborate their belief that there was no piece of golf club sticking out of Martha's neck.

"Did you see anything protruding out of her head and neck?" Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano asked McGuire.

"No. I saw nothing," she answered.

Keegan, now a state representative in South Carolina, also said there was no golf club sticking out of Martha's neck.

Investigators found the head of the Toney Penna six-iron club, as well as an eight-inch section of its shaft near the Moxley driveway, he said. Another piece of its shaft was recovered near the pine tree where Martha's body was found.

Keegan said the killer dragged Moxley's body from the driveway to the pine tree.

Prosecutors and Sherman will continue to question the former police officers today as they move through a combined list of more than 50 potential witnesses.

"It's like running the New York marathon," Sherman said at the end of the day. "We're not even across the bridge yet."

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