Arguments continue on use of suspect's statements by Moxley grand jury
By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, 12/02/98 07:22

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Prosecutors and defense attorneys continued to clash over whether statements allegedly made by a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy at a school for troubled teens can be used by a grand jury investigating the 1975 slaying of a Greenwich teen-ager.

Prosecutors on Tuesday called a former staff member at the Elan school in Poland Spring, Maine, as a final witness in an attempt to support their claim that conversations Michael Skakel had while at the school are not confidential or privileged.

Skakel attended Elan, a residential school and drug rehabilitation center, from 1978 to 1980.

His lawyers are fighting to keep out testimony from Joseph Ricci, the owner of the school, and former students who have already testified before the grand jury.

Prosecutors, however, want to force Ricci to testify.

In court papers, Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said he ``has been informed by several former residents of Elan that Joseph Ricci was present and overheard Michael Skakel make admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley.''

Benedict says in court papers that the alleged admissions by Skakel were made ``in response to being confronted by Mr. Ricci and other Elan staff members as to Skakel's involvement in the murder.''

So far, Ricci has refused to testify and insists he never overheard or heard about any alleged incriminating statements made by Skakel while he was a resident at the school.

Moxley, 15, was beaten to death with a golf club on her family's Greenwich estate on Oct. 30, 1975.

Michael Skakel, who was 15 at the time of slaying, and his brother, Thomas, then 17, have been identified by authorities as suspects. The Skakels are the sons of Rushton Skakel, brother of Ethel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's widow. Both Michael and Thomas Skakel have denied any involvement in Moxley's killing.

The Skakel family lived near the Moxleys in the exclusive Belle Haven section of Greenwich. The 6-iron used to kill Martha was matched to a set owned by the Skakels.

On Tuesday, Harry Oberend, a former student and residential director at Elan, said he had little contact with Dr. Gerald Davidson, the co-founder and psychiatrist for Elan. Oberend said Davidson rarely participated in group therapy sessions.

Prosecutors are trying to counter defense claims that everything Skakel said while at Elan is protected by psychiatrist-patient confidentiality rules because everyone who worked in the program reported to Davidson, a psychiatrist.

But under questioning from Skakel's attorneys, Oberend also acknowledged that he had an expectation of privacy while he was being treated at Elan. He also said that as a staff member, he was instructed to convey the expectation of privacy to the residents.

Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink has heard six days of testimony on whether any statements made by Skakel can be considered by the grand jury. Closing arguments in the hearing were scheduled for Dec. 9.

Stodolink has allowed former students of Elan to testify before the grand jury. He said if he eventually rules in favor of the defense motion to bar testimony from anyone at Elan, he will order the grand jury to disregard any earlier testimony.

The defense also submitted an affidavit Tuesday in an attempt to show that Elan was operating as a mental health facility while Skakel was there.

Charles Acker, a former evaluation coordinator for the Maine Department of Mental Health & Corrections, says in the affidavit he recommended that a conditional mental health license be granted to Elan in July 1979. He said prior to 1978, the department did not issue mental health licenses.

Acker said Elan was notified in mid-1979 that they needed to obtain a license from the department since its program fell under the guise of a mental health facility in addition to a drug treatment facility.

Prosecutors have argued that Elan did not have a valid mental health license and therefore Skakel's statements are not protected by confidentiality laws.