Old Views Of Skakel Remain At New Address
By JOHN SPRINGER, The Hartford Courant

WINDHAM, N.Y. -- The house Michael Skakel purchased in this resort community in May is a far cry from the privileged estate he knew growing up in Greenwich, Conn.

Set back 500 feet from a private dirt road, the three-bedroom contemporary that Skakel, the nephew of the late Robert and Ethel Kennedy, bought for $290,000 offers privacy and scenic views of the valley bisected by the town's Main Street. Map of Windham, NY

The home's appeal is easy to understand. Skakel is an excellent skier and his family has been coming here since the 1960s. What some people around here cannot figure out, however, is why the man charged with killing a teenage neighbor in 1975, when he was 15 years old, would commit to a 30-year mortgage before learning whether he will stand trial.

"The general consensus is that he got away with murder for many years," says Bobbie Jacobs, a restaurant bartender who used to serve members of the large Skakel family on their regular visits here to ski.

The Skakel name is well known in Windham, where both Michael Skakel and his father, Rushton W. Skakel Sr., met their current wives. But if it weren't for the accusation that he killed 15-year-old Martha Moxley in Greenwich 24 years ago, the people of this charming little town in the northern Catskills would probably consider Michael Skakel just another rich guy who likes to ski.

It has been a delightfully cool summer in Windham, whose economy depends on the hordes of downstaters who drive 2 hours from the New York City area. The skiers cleared out in early April, but the countryside is still alive with vacationers drawn to the land of Rip Van Winkle by scenic mountain vistas, horseback riding, golf and swimming in the pools at the many hotels and inns on the town's three main roads.

Old inns such as Thompson House, run by the same family since 1880, trace their roots to a time when the rise of railroads and decline of the leather tanning industry transformed Windham's economy. Tourist dollars are critical to this region, dubbed "Land in the Sky" by Native Americans who discovered its beauty and natural resources long before Dutch settlers.

The weather dictates the economic climate, and is a major topic of conversation among Windham's approximately 1,700 year-round residents. The topic of Michael Skakel and the killing of Martha Moxley runs a close second whenever one of the New York-based newspapers or tabloid TV shows does a piece on what could become the most sensational courtroom drama since O.J. Simpson's murder trial and acquittal.

A Connecticut judge has yet to rule whether Skakel will stand trial for Martha Moxley's brutal killing, but some in Windham have already made up their minds about the prime suspect. Those residents are not too keen on the Kennedy kinsman who became a homeowner here May 19, just weeks before former patients at a Maine substance abuse treatment center testified that he confessed in the late 1970s to killing Moxley.

Skakel says he did not kill Moxley, who was beaten with a golf club and stabbed to death with the broken shaft, but he does not dispute that his teenage years were reckless and fueled by alcohol. In a proposal for a book that Skakel was marketing as a tell-all by a Kennedy insider, he writes a lot about this upstate New York winter playground and the legal problems here that landed him in the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine.

A March 1978 drunken-driving arrest in Windham prompted Rushton W. Skakel Sr. to send Michael Skakel , against his will, to Elan. Although the charges were later dropped, the incident had a lasting impact. "It was a snowy night and there was an accident just up the road here in Jewett. An officer was directing traffic around it," Windham Police Chief George Tortorelis said. "The officer ordered a driver to stop, but he didn't and almost ran the officer over. Another officer chases him and the driver crashes into a telephone pole on Route 23. It turns out to be the Skakel kid."

The weekly Windham Journal published a front-page photo of Skakel's wrecked Jeep Wagoneer and described the incident as a high-speed, 7-mile chase involving a "17-year-old youth from Connecticut."

In the proposal for the since-abandoned book, "Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean," Skakel described being dragged off to Elan, soon after the arrest, by family friend Tom Sheridan and three "goons" hired by his wealthy and influential father.

In a recent interview, Sheridan said he did not relish the chore assigned to him by Rushton Skakel Sr., whose sister is Ethel Skakel Kennedy. He confirmed the account of Michael Skakel's forced removal to Maine as described in the book proposal.

"That was pretty much it," said Sheridan, a New York lawyer whose family started a private ski club that later became Ski Windham. "Michael was a very troubled young man. He was a severe alcoholic."

Sheridan said Skakel has been leading a sober life for about 15 years and has been trying to find the right path. Buying the house in Windham might be part of that process, he said. Margot Skakel, Michael Skakel's wife, is Sheridan's niece.

"I'm thoroughly convinced that this young man is innocent. I think it is about time that this darn thing come to a head," Sheridan said. "This is finally going to clear the air."

Michael and Margot Skakel were spotted in Windham several times early this summer, but several townspeople said they were unaware the couple had recently purchased a house off South Street. No one answered the door last month at the home that Skakel and his father purchased from Margot Skakel's brother. Connecticut Superior Court Judge Maureen Dennis has not indicated when she will issue a ruling based on legal arguments and three days of testimony she heard in June in Stamford. Dennis must decide whether there is probable cause to try Skakel for murder. If so, she must further decide whether to try him as an adult or under 1975 statutes pertaining to juveniles . A conviction as an adult could carry a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison; it is unclear what punishment, if any, Skakel would face if tried and convicted as a juvenile under 1975 laws.

"I think this is a blessing for Michael," Sheridan said. "It is the only way for him to get this behind him."

Other Windham residents say they are not as concerned about what is best for Michael Skakel.

Rich Sullivan, a 46-year-old restaurant owner, concedes that he is not an objective observer.

"That whole Kennedy clan -- I'm prejudiced against them," said Sullivan, owner of Martin Sullivan's in the Hensonsville section of town. "They're just a bunch of skells. They think they can do whatever they want and someone else will clean it up."

Sullivan, who like most of Windham's year-round residents hails from somewhere else, remembers the Skakels from when the large family used to dine at his restaurant. He found it odd that everyone in the group would order the same weekly dinner special and then Anna Mae Skakel, a Windham woman who is Rushton Skakel Sr.'s second wife, would pay.

"They used to come in every Thursday night for the turkey dinner. It was soup, salad, full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, coffee and dessert, all for $11.95," Sullivan said. "Of course, they could afford anything they want, but here they were coming in all the time for this $11.95 turkey dinner special."

Jimmy O'Connor is also not a fan of Michael Skakel or his family. He banned Michael and Thomas Skakel from his Irish pub and inn years ago. The owner of Jimmy O'Connor's Windham Mountain Inn said time has made the details hazy, but he recalls that things seemed to get broken a lot when the Skakel boys were there with their friends.

"We could have better neighbors than that," O'Connor said.



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