Skakel convicted of Moxley murder
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- Twenty-seven years after a popular 15-year-old girl was beaten to death in her yard with a golf club, a jury convicted Michael Skakel of her murder yesterday, ending her family's generation-long quest for justice.
Skakel, 41, appeared unprepared for a verdict that few expected, and his lawyer held onto his arm to brace him for the worst. Both he and his lawyer, Michael Sherman, fought back tears as they stood, side by side, behind the defense table.
Lawyers came out of the judge's chambers at 10:45 a.m. and a prosecutor mouthed the word "verdict" to the family of victim Martha Moxley. It wasn't until 15 minutes later that the verdict was read. The jury foreman said one word to a packed courtroom so quiet with anticipation that even the turn of a notebook page elicited stares.
That word, "guilty," inspired loud gasps among those in the courtroom and tears from both families -- the Moxleys' tears of bittersweet joy and the Skakels' tears of devastation.
The court clerk polled the jury, which had deliberated since Tuesday. Six men and six women rose individually and said they believed Skakel was guilty of murdering Moxley, his Belle Haven neighbor.
Following the poll, Skakel willingly put his hands behind his back, inviting the legion of courtroom marshals to handcuff him in his dark blue suit.
"I'm so sorry," Sherman told his client as he was handcuffed. Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. asked Sherman if he wanted to say anything. Sherman, his voice noticeably subdued, said no.
Then Skakel, addressing the court for the first and only time during his trial, said, "I'd like to say something."
"No, sir," Kavanewsky said, before revoking Skakel's bond.
Skakel was led from the courtroom and later whisked away in a van to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, to be sentenced July 19 at state Superior Court in Norwalk. Skakel faces from 10 years to life in prison. In a news conference later, Sherman promised a quick appeal.
"This is certainly the most upsetting verdict I've ever had, or will ever have, in my life," he said. "But I will tell you, as long as there's a breath in my body, this case is not over."
Moxley was found beaten to death in her family's Belle Haven yard, located on Walsh Lane, on Halloween in 1975. She was beaten so hard with a golf club that the club, traced to the Skakel home, shattered into several pieces. One piece was used to stab Moxley through the neck. One piece of the club was missing from the crime scene and never recovered, the handle portion that bore the name of Skakel's mother. Moxley was a blonde, dimpled, flirtatious girl who had been living in Belle Haven for one year and three months when she was savagely beaten to death. Her family had moved to town from Piedmont, Calif., when her father's job was transferred to the East Coast. Moxley had been voted the most well-liked girl in her ninth-grade class at Western Junior High School. The case lagged for years, as investigators were unable to obtain enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime. Rumors swirled about a Kennedy family cover-up. Skakel's father, Rushton, is the brother of Ethel Kennedy, who was married to the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Moxley's mother, Dorthy Moxley, said she knew the verdict was coming yesterday and that she said a prayer when she woke up.
"Dear Lord, again today, like I've been doing for 27 years. I'm praying that I can find justice for Martha," Moxley said outside the courthouse. "I just feel so blessed. This is Martha's day. This is truly Martha's day."
Dorthy Moxley, herself considered a driving force in her daughter's case, also said she had "great empathy" for the Skakel family and that she plans to help other mothers cope with losing their children.
John Moxley, Martha's brother, held onto his mother as she spoke, his eyes, too, stained red.
"This is a hollow victory," John Moxley said. "We're just so appreciative. It was just incredible. But it doesn't bring Martha back."
Both in and out of the courtroom, Moxley family members and friends yesterday sobbed as they hugged the four members of the state's team, including State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill and State Inspector Frank Garr, who, as a former member of the Greenwich Police Department, worked on the case almost since the murder occurred.
"It's nice to say, once in a while, that justice delayed doesn't have to be justice denied," said Benedict, who has been credited with an impassioned closing argument that glued the pieces of his circumstantial case into a tight mosaic.
Asked which evidence likely brought forth Skakel's conviction, Benedict said, "Mr. Skakel's words, from day one." Benedict maintained Skakel has been talking consistently about his involvement in the case from the moment Moxley's body was discovered.
Garr, who has been both praised and criticized for his work on the case, said the right verdict was better late than never.
"It's the justice that's taken 27 years for the Moxleys," Garr said. "It's the right verdict. I feel absolutely wonderful."
Benedict said he was not sure yet what sentence he would request for Skakel.
He also said he was happy the former Skakel family tutor, Kenneth Littleton, a man who was chased as a suspect for years, could live peacefully.
"The easiest decision I ever made was to give immunity to Ken Littleton," Benedict said. "There's no way he had anything to do with this."
Littleton's fiancée, Ann Drake, reached at the couple's home in Boston, said Littleton had no comment upon hearing the news of Skakel's conviction.
Sherman, meanwhile, insisted that there were many grounds for appeals, and he would begin working on those motions immediately.
"This case never should have been taken out of the juvenile court," Sherman said.
Skakel was originally charged as a juvenile because the crime took place when he was 15. The case was later transferred to adult court. Two of Skakel's younger brothers, David and Steven Skakel, also gave statements outside the courthouse defending their brother's innocence and vowing to do whatever they could to free him.
Skakel's cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., insisted Skakel was innocent.
"The tragedy of Martha Moxley's death has just been compounded by the conviction of an innocent man," Kennedy told Greenwich Time in a telephone interview. "My cousin Michael is absolutely innocent."
Two hours passed between the 11 a.m. verdict and Skakel's 1 p.m. departure to Suffield. Skakel removed his light blue tie before getting into the state Department of Correction van.
During the four-week trial, prosecutors presented to the jury about a dozen people who said they heard Skakel confess or incriminate himself, starting the day Moxley's body was found and continuing through 1997, when Skakel recounted the night of the murder to a ghostwriter collaborating with him on a book deal. The book was never written.
Skakel maintained he was at his cousin's house in backcountry Greenwich during the hours when experts believed she was murdered, close to 10 p.m. He originally said he went home and to bed after he returned at about 11:15 p.m.
But Skakel changed his alibi in the early 1990s, when he told a private investigative firm hired by his family, Sutton Associates, that he went out and masturbated in a tree on the Moxley property on the night Moxley was killed.
The prosecution presented family friends who said they believed Skakel never went to his cousin's house that night and who cast doubt on his alibi. They also presented several former classmates from the Elan School, who said Skakel confessed.
One witness, Gregory Coleman, now deceased, said in prior testimony that Skakel once told him: "I'm going to get away with murder because I'm a Kennedy." That evidence was heard by the jury. Another witness, John Higgins, said Skakel cried as he made a two-hour confession to the murder while the two sat outside alone one night.
Benedict also played a tape of Skakel's own words during a taped interview with the ghostwriter.
Skakel said he went back out that night to the Moxley property because he felt aroused.
"I'll be bold tonight. I'll go get a kiss from Martha. Martha likes me," Skakel said to his ghostwriter.
The defense tried in vain to convince a well-educated, white- collar jury that Skakel's alleged confessions at the Elan School were beaten out of him in a makeshift boxing ring, used by the school as a means of coercing confrontations and admissions, and that they were not genuine. Sherman pointed the finger at Littleton instead, and also reminded the jury that Skakel's brother Thomas also was a longtime suspect in the case. His efforts to raise reasonable doubt apparently failed.
Attention first turned from Thomas to Michael in the early 1990s, when details of his alibi change were reported. Three books were written about the case by Dominick Dunne, Timothy Dumas and former Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman who pointed the finger officially at Michael Skakel.
No one was charged in the murder for more than 24 years, until Skakel was arrested in January 2000 after a one-man grand jury found reason to arrest him. Sherman tried to keep the case in juvenile court by appealing a judge's decision to transfer it to adult court, and Sherman also filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether, arguing there was a five-year statute of limitations in effect at the time of the murder.
But in late November 2001, the state Supreme Court dismissed the motion to return the case to juvenile court, saying it was too early in the legal process to hear an appeal. In December, Kavanewsky denied the long-standing motion to dismiss the charges against Skakel.
The trial began May 7.
Skakel, who did not testify in his own defense, is divorced from Margot Sheridan. They share joint custody of their 3-year-old son. Skakel's brothers said he was most worried about his son.