SKAKELS MAY BE UP NEXT

By J.A. Johnson Jr.
(Staff Writer)
GREENWICH TIME (Aug. 16, 1998)

Now that the grand jury probing the unsolved 1975 slaying of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley has recessed, the question on the minds of many is whether the two murder suspects will be called to testify when the investigation resumes after Labor Day.

Since convening July 10, the grand jury has gone through a succession of at least 15 witnesses, the most significant being former murder suspect Kenneth Littleton, who was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. At the time of Moxley's murder, Littleton was a 23-year-old live-in tutor for the victim's teenage neighbors, Michael and Thomas Skakel, the only remaining suspects in the case.

Some observers believe Littleton's immunity and testimony set the stage for an appearance before the grand jury by one or both of the Skakel brothers, who for years have been shielded from questioning by their attorneys. Except for Littleton, the Skakel brothers are the only suspects identified by police. Attorneys for both brothers have denied that either killed Moxley.

The only potential problem lies in the fact that witnesses who do not willingly cooperate must by law be granted immunity if compelled to testify. That is what happened Aug. 4, when State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict told a judge in open court that Littleton's testimony was needed for the probe, but that the witness had invoked the Fifth Amendment before the grand jury. After being given immunity, Littleton returned to the sealed grand jury room and spent nearly two hours telling what he knew about the night of Oct. 30, 1975, when 15-year-old Martha Moxley was brutally beaten and stabbed with a golf club belonging to the Skakel family.

Greenwich criminal defense attorney Philip Russell said although he did not know if the suspects will be called, some members of the large Skakel family will undoubtedly be called before Superior Court Judge George N. Thim, the one-man investigative grand jury. "It would be a waste of time if this grand jury did not compel the testimony which has eluded Connecticut law enforcement for so long," Russell said. "So, we will probably be hearing from those members of the Skakel household who Mr. Benedict feels comfortable immunizing."

Two authors who published books on the Moxley case earlier this year diverged on whether the Skakel brothers would, or should, be made to appear before Thim. "I would want to call them in the middle and the end (of the grand jury process) to get them to commit to a story and then confront them with more evidence later" that might contradict their own testimony, said former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, author of "Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?" Fuhrman said any testimony from the suspects should be given voluntarily, and that if they do not cooperate they should not be compelled to do so because of the immunity provision of the grand jury law.

Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native who wrote "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community," said he doubted either Skakel brother would willingly testify, and therefore doubted either will be subpoenaed. "I wouldn't expect to see Tommy or Michael," he said. "The other Skakels, I think, have a better chance" of being called before Thim, "but definitely not Tommy and Michael."

Since convening, the grand jury has met only sporadically, as Thim continues to hear other cases on the Bridgeport court's docket. But when it has been in session, Thim has heard from several witnesses each day. Prosecutors have refused to name those who have testified, but Greenwich Time has identified 10 of the 15 or so witnesses who have entered Thim's courtroom.

Those witnesses are: the victim's only immediate surviving family members, mother Dorthy and brother John Moxley; retired Greenwich police officers Daniel Hickman and Millard Jones, the first two officers at the crime scene; retired Greenwich police chief Thomas Keegan, who was captain of detectives in 1975; retired Greenwich detective Stephen Carroll, who investigated the murder; the Rev. Mark Connolly and Mildred Ix, close friends of the Skakel family; Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the state's chief medical examiner; and Littleton. Observers agree that Littleton's appearance before the grand jury has been the most significant development so far. "Eliminating Littleton as a suspect was a really important step because it finally puts the focus where it belongs - on the Skakels," Dumas said.

Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, who was hired by Michael Skakel to represent him in connection with the grand jury investigation, said he did not know whether his client would be subpoenaed. He did say, however, he expected Thim to complete his work fairly rapidly. "One thing I'm impressed with is how it's gone so swiftly," Sherman said Friday. "I'm not used to the system moving so quickly, but they've gotten a lot of witnesses in there and are doing the best to do whatever has to be done."

While some believe Thim may take the full 18 months that the law allows in order to present a report of his findings - one that will recommend to prosecutors whether or not an arrest should be made - Sherman said he did not think the judge will use all the allotted time. "I don't see that," Sherman said. "Judge Thim is a very no-nonsense guy, and he'll want to get his job done as quickly and as effectively as possible, in the most responsible way."

Russell, who has been closely following the grand jury, said because most of the witnesses who have testified were involved at the beginning of the initial murder investigation, the grand jury appears to have only set the groundwork for more substantive testimony. "Littleton was a witness to some transactions (within the Skakel family) either before or after the murder, but other than that, the case has not moved into a presentation of the investigatory phase," Russell said. "Typically, this phase will include forensic and laboratory evidence, the results of the post-mortem examination, and proof of extrinsic and collateral fact." In legal terms, extrinsic and collateral facts are evidence not directly related to the crime - such as witnesses' observations - but can help establish a suspect's probable guilt.

"They did the background and made the foundation they are building their house on," Fuhrman said of the testimony that has been heard. "Now they will get the rest of the people who are going to give them a picture of what happened." Fuhrman said he expected to be called as a witness, as he has regularly discussed the case with prosecutors, to whom he had supplied information he gathered for his book. "I've informed them I'm at their disposal, and they have indicated I may be called on," Fuhrman said.

But according to Russell, Fuhrman has nothing to offer. "I would be curious as to what evidence he could produce which would not consist of hearsay," Russell said. "Mark Fuhrman didn't see, hear, taste or smell anything of interest to the inquiry."

The Moxley case has stumped authorities for more than two decades, and the grand jury may signify a last-ditch attempt to solve the murder. Some believe if Thim's report does not recommend an arrest, the case will be permanently shelved.

Hopes for the case had been raised in 1991, when then-State's Attorney Donald Browne held a press conference to announce a full-scale reinvestigation was being launched. Although no reason was given, the reactivated probe came at a time of renewed publicity for the Moxley case, spurred on by Greenwich Time's comprehensive account of the murder and investigation based on police reports the newspaper obtained through state Freedom of Information laws. Even with two investigators on the case full time, it did not appear the probe was going anywhere.

Then, this spring, Fuhrman and Dumas published their true- crime stories on the case. Fuhrman's book liberally quoted from a secret report that had been prepared for the Skakel family by a private detective agency, Sutton Associates. In that report, both Skakel brothers changed the stories they had given to police about their activities the night of the murder.

Browne, who headed the investigation since 1975, retired in September 1997, but remained on the case as special prosecutor. He abruptly removed himself from the case in April, shortly after publication of the Moxley books. His successor, Benedict, moved swiftly on the grand jury, making an application for the probe that was subsequently approved by a three-judge panel sitting in New Haven. Thim, a 55-year-old former public defender who has sat on the bench since 1985, was appointed grand juror by Chief Court Administrator Aaron Ment in June. By law, he has six months to complete his work, but may be granted up to two six- month extensions. If recommending an arrest, the only charge that could be lodged is murder. The statute of limitations has already expired for manslaughter and other lesser forms of homicide.

Thanks to J.A. Johnson Jr. for the article.