Yesterday, which had been, expected to be the last day of the hearing, was consumed by questioning of the state's final witness, substance abuse counseling expert Harry Overend. Overend worked at the Maine rehabilitation center,where prosecutors allege a suspect, Michael Skakel, in 1978 confessed to murdering his 15-year-old neighbor.
Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink scheduled final arguments for next Wednesday and will later rule on defense claims that anything said at the rehab center is confidential information protected by the doctor-patient privilege and can not be considered by the grand jury.
Overend, who is now criminal justice liaison for The APT Foundation which contracts with the Connecticut Departmnent of Corrections for residential and outpatient care of substance abusers was a director at Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, during Skakel's stay from March 1978 to February 1980.
Overend, a former drug addict who did not become a certified counselor until after leaving.Elan School, testified that neither he nor other staff members were professional therapists. He later added, however, that the program was based on the widely accepted self-help model.
"It was the old self-help concept of one alcoholic helping another and one drug addict helping another," he said.
Under cross-examination by attorneys representing Skakel and Elan School, the drug counselor said because Elan School received federal funding for its treatment program, it was bound to comply with federal confidentiality laws. Overend also testified that he and other staff members began each group therapy session at Elan School by assuring participants: "What is said in the group would stay within the group."
Under questioning by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, Overend portrayed the Elan School of the late 1970s as a 24-hour substance abuse treatment center that was largely based on accepted therapy practices of the time. Overend also testified that residents entered the rehab center with the expectation of privacy, which he characterized as crucial for successful therapy.
Following Overend's nearly three hours on the witness stand, Elan School attorney John Campbell said the testimony appeared to bolster the privilege claim. "I think the state's witness turned out to be an excellent witness for Elan and the policies of confidentiality we have," Campbell said in an interview.