Defense rests case, trying to solidify defendant Skakel's alibi
By John Springer - Court TV
NORWALK, Conn. — Lawyers for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel rested the defense case Tuesday after jurors heard a retired medical examiner's testimony that Martha Moxley was killed about 10 p.m. on Oct. 30, 1975 — at the same time Michael Skakel maintains he was across town at his cousin's house.
Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk of Houston, now in his 80s, said he reached that conclusion after reviewing autopsy photos, police reports and a crime scene map back in December 1975. Frustrated by their only homicide case in years, Greenwich, Conn., police detectives contacted Jachimczyk in an effort to pinpoint the time of Martha's death at the hands of someone swinging a golf club.
Prosecutors say that person was Michael Skakel, who is 41 years old now. Prosecutors believe that Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, lied when he told police in 1975 that he was watching TV at his cousin's house at 10 p.m. on the night of the murder. They also believe that Martha could have been killed later that night, perhaps around the time that Skakel has admitted he was in a tree on the Moxley property masturbating.
Defense lawyer Mickey Sherman saved Jachimczyk for his last witness. He said he wanted jurors to hear that the Moxley investigators' own expert, not a defense hired gun, believed that Martha was killed about 10 p.m.
Where Michael Skakel was at 10 p.m. and the time of death, or the lack of a precise estimate, are expected to be key issues when the prosecution and defense deliver closing arguments later this week or early next week. The prosecution is also expected to also underscore the fact that Skakel made numerous statements to implicate himself between 1976 and 1991, statements the defense claims were either fabricated, taken out of context or the result of coercion.
Jachimczyk, the defense's 15th witness, is elderly and has trouble hearing, but he appeared sharp when testifying about his involvement in the case. Before he retired in 1995, Jachimczyk was Houston's chief medical examiner for 35 years. Judge John Kavanewsky would not let the witness answer a defense question about whether or not there are any buildings named after him, but Jachimczyk brought loud laughter when he made a reference to Houston's Joseph A. Jachimczyk Forensic Science Center during testimony a short time later.
Jachimczyk testified that he based his conclusion that Martha was killed about 10 p.m. on the autopsy and the fact that police told him that Martha's last meal was consumed about 5:30 p.m. Her mother, however, testified May 7 that Martha had a cheese sandwich about 6:30 p.m. or 6:45 p.m. Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict also brought out that Jachimczyk's opinion considered other non-medical factors, including reports about barking dogs at 10 p.m. and a belief that Martha had a 10:30 p.m. curfew.
On cross-examination, Jachimczyk conceded that establishing a time of death when a body is found so many hours later, as it was in the Moxley case, is difficult and that his conclusion that Martha died at 10 p.m. could be off by an hour either way.
Earlier Tuesday, jurors listened to a reading of a transcript of defense witness John Skakel's 1975 interview with Greenwich detectives. John Skakel, now 43, testified that he could not recall who was in the family's Lincoln for a trip across town to home of his cousin, James Dowdle. According to the transcript, however, John Skakel told police on Nov. 14, 1975, that his brother, Michael, was among those who went to Dowdle's home.
John Skakel previously told a one-judge grand juror that he was awakened at 11:33 p.m. by a noise coming from the Skakel's mud room, a narrow entryway that shared a wall with the witness' bedroom.
According to a transcript of an interview police conducted with Michael Skakel on the same day, the defendant told police he got home from his cousin's and went to bed. Sherman, his lawyer, told reporters that it should not surprise the jury or anyone that at age 15 Skakel would omit from his police statement the fact that he went out later that night and masturbated in a tree at the crime scene.
Prosecutors are expected Wednesday to call Julie Skakel, one of Rushton Skakel's seven children who has yet to testify, as part of the state's rebuttal case. Michael's brother, Thomas, once a suspect in the case, will not take the stand.
If the rebuttal case concludes Wednesday, closing arguments would be delivered Thursday morning and the jury would receive the case after final instructions from the judge Thursday afternoon.
The defense rested without any appearances by the defendant's famous cousins, the Kennedys. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had said before the trial began that he and other family members would attend a portion of the proceedings to show their support.
Sherman dodged several reporters' attempts to get an explanation for the missing Kennedys. He got several to give up by joking, "I gotta call and book them."