In addition, the detective, James Murphy, said during testimony in Nassau County Court that if he were to disclose the work his firm did on the Moxley case, defense lawyers would be reluctant to hire his and other agencies in the future if not assured of confidentiality.
Murphy, a former New York City police officer and FBI special agent, was president of the Bishop Services Inc. investigation agency when hired in 1992 by an attorney representing Moxley murder suspect Thomas Skakel. He remained that lawyer's investigator when he left the firm in 1993 to found Sutton Associates, another investigation agency, after which he was retained by an attorney for another suspect, Thomas Skakel's younger brother, Michael.
Murphy's grand jury testimony is being sought, according to an affidavit filed by a Connecticut prosecutor in Nassau County Court, because both Skakel brothers significantly changed the alibis they had given police in 1975 when questioned by Sutton Associates investigators 18 years later. According to State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict's affidavit, the revised stories placed the suspects either with Moxley or near the crime scene at about the time police said the 15-year- old girl was murdered with a golf club, which was owned by the Skakel family. A motion seeking to block Murphy's grand jury appearance was filed in the New York court last month by Commack, N.Y., attorney Robert Gottlieb, who is representing Sutton Associates and the Skakel brothers' attorneys.
After Gottlieb called Murphy to the witness stand yesterday, the private investigator explained, "We were asked to conduct an investigation to establish the facts surrounding the death of Martha Moxley and whether any (Skakel) family members were involved."
Gottlieb then produced as evidence a June 29, 1992, letter from Murphy to Michael Skakel's then-defense lawyer, Thomas Sheriden, assuring Sheriden of confidentiality. "All information we develop will be your work product and will only be disseminated upon your prior approval," Gottlieb quoted from the letter.
A second letter, dated July 20, 1993, from Murphy to Stamford defense attorney Emanuel Margolis, Gottlieb said, laid out the conditions of a planned interview by Sutton Associates detectives of Margolis' client, Thomas Skakel. "All information gathered by the interview with Thomas Skakel (would be) your work product and for your exclusive work," said Gottlieb, quoting Murphy's letter to Margolis.
When asked by Gottlieb whether being forced to testify would cause him "undue hardship," Murphy replied, "Yes, in two ways: First, there is personal pride and the obligation I have to protect that information when I'm working for an attorney." He added, "If I'm compelled (to testify), I'm concerned about the impact the publicity would have on myself, my firm and the (private investigations) industry. It would be devastating."
In cross-examination, Benedict questioned Murphy's claim of potential hardship - one of the grounds on which a material witness can be exempted from being ordered to testify. "Certainly, there's no physical hardship," the prosecutor said. "We're only a bridge away" in Connecticut.
The prosecutor also said information concerning the revised alibis that the Skakel brothers allegedly gave Sutton investigators had not been leaked by Murphy personally. "It was done without his authorization, so I don't buy into the claim that dire financial consequences would result," Benedict said. He added that the attorney-client privilege is waived when confidential information is disclosed by a "blabber-mouth."
Benedict, however, did not disclose the source of his information concerning the Sutton Associates investigation, prompting a chiding from opposing counsel. "I sit here and hear the state's attorney say it's really no big deal, that you only have to cross over a bridge and come to Connecticut, and there's no hardship," Gottlieb said. "That bridge goes both ways," Gottlieb told Nassau County Judge Jerald Carter. "We don't know if some or any of the information (Benedict) alleges is in his possession. We don't know if he made it up. We have nothing. Your Honor has nothing."
The attorney argued that because the "most sacred" attorney-client privilege is at issue, the burden was on Benedict to provide evidence that privilege might have been waived. "The state of Connecticut, as far as we're concerned, thumbed its nose at that basic requirement," Gottlieb said.
Benedict, however, argued it was not a New York judge's job to determine what testimony a Connecticut grand jury can hear. "Why does New York want to entertain this matter?" the prosecutor asked Carter. "New York law says the admissibility of this evidence should be litigated in Connecticut." Carter said he would issue a written ruling within a week.