Prosecutor calls Skakel 'spin master'
who tried to cover up evidence
By John Springer - Court TV Update 6:30PM
NORWALK, Conn. — A prosecutor trying the murder case against Michael Skakel said the Kennedy cousin was a "spin master" who got snared in his own web of stories designed to cover up his involvement in the murder of his 15-year-old neighbor in 1975.
The defense, however, argued that the investigation was from the start a game of "musical chairs" and that Skakel, now 41, found himself in the defense seat when the music stopped playing.
During closing arguments Monday, lawyers on both sides presented strikingly different views of the evidence against Skakel, who is accused of killing Martha Moxley 26 years ago.
The case has drawn nationwide attention because of its "Kennedy connection" — Skakel is a nephew of the assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy — and on Monday, 60 people signed a waiting list hoping for a seat in the courtroom.
Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict told jurors that he believed the state provided ample evidence that Skakel killed Moxley with a golf club in Greenwich, Conn., on Oct. 30, 1975, and then tried to cover his involvement over the years by offering numerous stories about his whereabouts that night.
Defense lawyer Mickey Sherman, however, argued simply that Skakel had no part in the killing and has been falsely accused.
"He didn't do it," Sherman argued to the jury. "He didn't do it. He doesn't know who did. He wasn't there when the crime was committed. And he never confessed."
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations Tuesday morning. If convicted, Skakel faces a minimum of 25 years in prison.
Benedict, who inherited the case from a previous prosecutor, told the jury in his closing arguments that the case had brought "more distractions" than any case he has seen during his 25 years as a prosecutor. He called Martha's murder "the most notorious" case the country has seen in nearly 27 years.
Skakel, he told jurors, killed his neighbor on the night before Halloween in 1975 because he feared that he was losing a competition with his older brother, Thomas, for her affections. As he spoke, another prosecutor flashed photos of Martha and her badly beaten body, including one photo that showed her as she was found — lying face down beneath the tree with her jeans and underwear pulled down to her ankles.
Benedict didn't touch on it much during testimony, but in his closing argument he argued that the case was essentially a "forensics case" even though there was no physical evidence linking Skakel to the crime.
Although no semen was found on Martha and an autopsy determined she had not been sexually assaulted, Benedict said that partial prints found on the inside of Martha's exposed thighs were evidence that the killer had at least tried to pry her legs open after her body was dumped underneath a pine tree on her family's estate.
"This is evidence," said Benedict, referring to the smeared prints. "He had masturbated … in the vicinity of Martha Moxley's body …" Benedict talked a lot about a cover-up of the Skakel family and noted that police never found the grip of the Toney Penna six-iron used to kill Martha. The murder weapon was linked to a set that came from the Skakel home and police found most of the club with the exception of what they believed was a monogrammed handle.
"The piece that is missing has significance only to someone named Skakel," Benedict said. "The golf club is not a smoking gun but it is certainly a very warm barrel."
Benedict highlighted the testimony of 11 witnesses who testified that Skakel made statements over the years implicating himself in the murder.
A barber in Greenwich testified he overheard Skakel tell his sister in 1976, "I have killed before." The Skakel's former driver said that Skakel told him in 1977 that he had done something "very bad" and had to either kill himself or leave the country. And while attending Elan School, a Poland Springs, Maine, center for troubled youth, in 1978 and 1979, Skakel allegedly told two residents he killed Moxley.
Benedict alleged that Skakel, in an attempt to provide some explanation in the event physical evidence was uncovered, told numerous people over the years that although he didn't kill Martha Moxley he had masturbated near where her body was found. The prosecutor said Skakel became increasingly concerned as the years went by that the evolving science of genetic identification would help link him to the murder.
In 1985, Skakel told a friend that he had been masturbating in the tree outside Martha's window. He told a similar story to a childhood friend in 1992 and to the author for an ill-fated book proposal in 1997. No physical evidence was ever found to link him to the crime.
Anticipating the defense's closing argument, Benedict said that well-intentioned investigators tried to build a case against Thomas Skakel and former family tutor Kenneth Littleton between 1976 and 1992. Both former suspects had alibis and there was also no evidence to indicate that they had any involvement in the murder.
Benedict called an effort by the defense to place Skakel across town at his cousin's house on the night of the murder "sketchy and contrived" and noted that defense witnesses had problems recalling details.
By contrast, Sherman argued in his 90-minute closing argument that investigators have demonstrated over the years that they would do or say anything to get someone to confess to killing Martha and solve the crime that cast the Greenwich Police Department in a bad light for more than a quarter of a century.
"They didn't show you any evidence," Sherman said. "Michael Skakel had some problems but they never rose to the level Mr. Benedict said … he didn't do it. What do they got to show you that he did?"
Sherman said that the defense showed that the physical evidence was "zilch," a phrase used by the former captain of detectives on the case. "Let's talk about the forensic evidence against Michael Skakel," Sherman started. Then he paused for 10 seconds of silence. "That's the end of that discussion."
Sherman told the jurors that they should ask themselves why items of evidence were still being tested by the state even after jury selection began April 2. He said the state is still clearly trying to solve the crime. As recently as March, he noted, police were comparing hairs found at the crime scene to Littleton.
"I have no clue whatsoever whether or not Ken Littleton committed this murder," Sherman said. "I'm not here trying to convince you Ken Littleton committed this murder. All I know is the length they would go to get him to confess."
Sherman explained that an extensive effort by police in 1997 in enlisting Littleton's ex-wife to try to get him to confess on tape showed that they believed he had committed the murder. Littleton testified during the trial that he had developed a drinking problem and a psychiatric disorder after the murder, but denied ever having even met Martha Moxley.
Sherman said that the testimony of former Elan residents about things that Michael Skakel said at the treatment center for troubled teenagers in the late 1970s was "garbage." He said some of these witnesses suffer from "I Love Lucy syndrome." Like the beloved television character portrayed by the late Lucille Ball, Sherman argued, numerous people have shown clearly that they "want to get into the act."
He noted that none of the witnesses who testified about statements Skakel allegedly made at Elan or elsewhere went to police. Instead, investigators found them through word of mouth. Sherman reminded jurors of the testimony of Gerrane Ridge, who said she overheard Skakel joking about the murder in 1997. Ridge admitted that she came forward because she "wanted to be part of the show."
Sherman said jurors should feel insulted that prosecutors would call a witness who is so clearly lying.
He also argued that even investigators did not at first take the confessions seriously until recently. Dorothy Rodgers, for example, told Greenwich police that Skakel implicated himself in a conversation the two had at Elan.
"They didn't do anything with it. They didn't buy it," Sherman said. "They didn't buy because it didn't make sense."
Sherman finished his closing argument by noting that the prosecution seemed pleased that the investigations of Thomas Skakel and Kenneth Littleton did not conclude with wrongful arrests. In fact, he argued, police applied for an arrest warrant for Thomas Skakel in 1976 only to be told by prosecutor that there was insufficient evidence to make the arrest.
"It's your turn to say it's not enough," Sherman told jurors. It's not acceptable."
Because the prosecution has the burden of proving Skakel's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Benedict was given the last word during arguments. He saved one of his strongest points for last.
Skakel has always maintained that he was at his cousin's house about the time police believed, at least initially, that Martha was assaulted. But Andrea Renna, a friend of both the Skakel and Moxley families in 1975, testified that Michael Skakel remained behind at home when two of his brothers drove cousin James Terrien home.
Using an overhead projector to display Skakel's words in big red letters, Benedict played a recording of the 1997 book interview during which Skakel said he remembered when he got home from his cousin's that Andrea had already left. The prosecutor argued that Skakel slipped up. Benedict said Skakel could not have known that Andrea Renna had left the Skakel home unless he was home when she left.
The argument had the feel of a dramatic courtroom moment and many in the media were abuzz about it later. The defense, however, said that Renna's recollection was called into question by her own statements. Although she testified that she was certain Skakel was at home after she and the car carrying Skakel's cousin left, Renna admitted that she never saw the vehicle and never saw it depart the Skakel driveway.
Dorthy Moxley and John Moxley, Martha's mother and brother, told reporters they were impressed with Benedict's argument and were hopeful jurors will conclude from Skakel's own statements over the years that he is guilty.
"Today he really connected the dots and I think he was outstanding," Dorthy Moxley said of Benedict. "It all came together."
Sherman agreed that the prosecutor gave a strong closing argument, given the evidence he had to work with. "I think Jon did an excellent job. I think basically he had to make chicken soup of chicken feathers," Sherman said.
Asked about Dorthy Moxley's comment about dots being connected for jurors, Sherman said, "To problem is I don't think there are enough dots and I don't think they connect."