‘Clock is ticking’ on Moxley probe
By Thomas Mellana,Staff Writer - Greenwich Time

The investigation into Martha Moxley's murder is almost over. But attorneys are clueless whether a grand jury will be able to consider much of the testimony presented to it.

"The clock is ticking," said Michael Sherman, attorney for one of the suspects in the 1975 slaying.

What, if anything, did suspect Michael Skakel tell fellow residents at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center about the 15-year-old's murder? And does it legally matter?

Prosecutors and defenders are anxiously awaiting answers, as the one-man grand jury will decide next month if there is evidence to make an arrest for the murder.

Prosecutors have said that Skakel made incriminating statements about Moxley's death while a resident of the Elan School rehab center in Maine from 1978 to 1980.

Several former Elan staff members and residents, including Skakel's former bunkmate, have testified before the grand jury since it began investigating the murder in 1998.

It is 24 years ago today that Martha Moxley's body was found beneath a tree in the yard of her Belle Haven home. Moxley lived across the street from the Skakels. Police say Michael and his brother, Thomas, then 15 and 17, respectively, were both with the victim the night she was slain with a golf club matching a set owned by the Skakel family.

The state Supreme Court already has ruled testimony of Elan's headmaster cannot be considered by the grand jury, but the fate of statements by other Elan figures is still up in the air.

The grand jury expires in December, and cannot be renewed again. A new grand jury could be appointed, but some consider that unlikely.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill argued at an October hearing that confidentiality under federal regulations only applies to those who directly participate in another's treatment, not to someone such as a roommate. But Skakel's attorneys testified that anything their client said while in alcohol rehab, be it to a doctor or bunkmate, is protected and cannot be used in court.

Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink adjourned the hearing without setting a new date. Although he said he would reconvene in a week or so to hear further arguments, attorneys from both sides said that has not happened.

"We haven't heard anything yet," Gill said.

"We're all kind of feeling our way in the dark," agreed Sherman.

Stodolink ruled last year that Joseph Ricci, owner of Elan, had to testify about what he may or may not have heard Michael Skakel say about the murder. The state Appellate Court, however, reversed that finding in August, saying discussions with Ricci are protected. The Appellate Court sided with Skakel's claims that alcohol-related disorders are considered mental conditions by the psychiatric community.

Should the prosecution lose this time around, the grand jury could be ordered to disregard all Elan School-related testimony it already has heard. Just how damaging that would be to those seeking an arrest is hard to say. Grand jury investigations proceed under strict confidentiality rules, and participants are forbidden from discussing what happens behind the jury's closed doors.

Gill said she just argued the admissibility point, but is not privy to what is happening before the grand jury. Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, who is prosecuting the case to the grand jury, did not return a phone call to his office. Benedict and all court personnel involved with the grand jury questioning, even the stenographer, have reportedly taken oaths to not discuss what occurs during sessions.

If the court disregards the rest of the Elan testimony: "Unless the state appeals, the grand jury will have to make a determination based on what it has," Sherman said. "I have no clue as to what (other) evidence has or has not been presented that could result (in an arrest)."

During the 18 months since it was appointed, many witnesses have testified to the one-man grand jury, Judge George Thim. More than 50 people were questioned in the first year alone, including Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, and the police officers who initially investigated the scene. A private investigator once hired by the Skakel family testified in March.

Another who testified last year was the live-in tutor who moved into the Skakel home the night of the murder. Then a teacher at the private Brunswick School, Kenneth Littleton was originally considered a suspect in the slaying, but was removed as a suspect last year.

That left the Skakel brothers as the only two publicly identified suspects left in the case.

In September, their father, Rushton Skakel Sr., was forced to testify by the court. Skakel Sr. is claimed in court documents to have knowledge of possibly incriminating statements Michael made while being treated for alcohol abuse. The elder Skakel's testimony was delayed for nearly a year as his lawyer tried to claim he suffered from dementia. Skakel was compelled to travel from his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., to testify Sept. 9 in state Superior Court in Bridgeport.

According to state statute, the single-judge investigatory grand jury has six months from his appointment - in this case, June 1998 - to determine whether probable cause exists for an arrest. The law allows a maximum of two extensions, each of up to six months. At the maximum, the grand jury could be seated through December.

The exact date that the grand jury investigation closes has never been disclosed due to secrecy rules.