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Moxley Case: Kennedy kin charged in 1975 killing

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2000.

(Court TV) -- After a quarter century, authorities say they have finally solved one of America's most intriguing whodunits, the 1975 murder of pretty, rich teen-ager Martha Moxley in this affluent New York suburb.

Officials announced murder charges Wednesday against Michael Skakel, a nephew of late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the former neighbor of Moxley. Skakel, now 39, was always considered a suspect in Moxley's beating death, but until prosecutors re-opened the case 18 months ago, they lacked enough evidence to charge him.

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As Skakel made his way to Connecticut from his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., his lawyer, colorful defense attorney Mickey Sherman, called a news conference and sniffed at the charges, saying that the amount of evidence the police had gathered to charge his client was a far cry from the reasonable doubt standard.

"Michael Skakel is innocent," Sherman said. "He was innocent 24 years ago. He is innocent today."

He added, "There will be no plea bargain." In an agreement with prosecutors, Sherman said, Skakel planned to post bond today and return for arraignment at a later date. He has a wife and infant son in Florida.

In an interesting twist, Skakel, who was 15 at the time of the alleged crime, is being charged as a juvenile, so many documents in the case remain sealed to preserve his anonymity. In fact, it was defense attorney Sherman, not Connecticut prosecutors, who revealed Skakel's identity. Prosecutors may seek at a later date to try him as an adult.

Murder in Greenwich

Then and now, this murder in Greenwich has captivated the public with its mix of glamour and gore. The privileged young players, the exclusive setting, and the Kennedy connection have provided fodder for three books, countless media exposès and an elaborate Web site.

To be sure, the events of Mischief Night 1975 changed the lives of everyone on Walsh Lane, a leafy street in Greenwich's gated Belle Haven enclave. Moxley, a 15-year-old described by friends as a happy and flirtatious tenth grader, left her stately home that night with other teens for some harmless Halloween rowdiness. Her body, so bloody that her light blond hair appeared black, was discovered the next morning under low-hanging fir trees in her own yard. She had been beaten to death with a six-iron golf club and stabbed in the throat with the golf club's shattered shaft.

The Greenwich police force, which hadn't seen a murder in 21 years, began interviewing witnesses to pin down Moxley's actions the night she died. Her friends said they had last seen her with the Skakel brothers, Michael, then 15, and his brother, Tom, then 17, who lived across Walsh Lane from the Moxley estate. Michael Skakel told investigators he had last seen Moxley talking to his brother. Michael said he left Moxley and Tom to go visit his cousin. Tom in turn told police he had last seen Moxley walking back to her own home.

At first, the Skakel family was very cooperative. The boys' father, Rushton Skakel, a brother of Ethel Kennedy, invited detectives into his home and let them interview the boys for hours on end. Investigators established that the murder weapon was part of a set belonging to the Skakels, but the elder Skakel quickly explained that the family had many sets of clubs and the boys often left them in the yard over night.

Police had three suspects: Michael, Tom, and the boys' new tutor, Kenneth Littleton. Investigators had mountains of information, but not enough evidence to charge anyone. And when the police pressed for copies of the boys school records, the Skakels stopped cooperating.

As months passed, police officers spent less and less time on Moxley's killing and rumors began circulating that the Kennedy clan, through Michael and Tom, had gotten away with murder.

But in 1978, Michael Skakel, always known as rambunctious, again found himself in trouble with the law. He got drunk, drove, and was accused of trying to hit a police officer. His father sent him to a special school in Maine for teens with substance abuse problems. He stayed at the Elan School in Poland Springs for two years.

New interest -- new story?

It was more than a decade later, in 1991, that the Moxley murder again grabbed national headlines. First, a rumor circulated that Skakel cousin William Kennedy Smith, then facing rape charges, had been at the Greenwich home on the night of Moxley's death. The rumor turned out to be wrong, but it brought attention back to the case. The same year, the local paper, the Greenwich Time, published police documents detailing how the early Moxley investigation had been bungled.

Local authorities re-opened the case, providing fodder for a trio of books, including one by former Los Angeles Police Det. Mark Fuhrman and another by novelist Dominick Dunne.

Rushton Skakel, perhaps worried that his boys would be hurt by the new interest in the case, hired a private investigator to look into the crime  a choice that would have unintended consequences. In a devastating leak, the Long Island newspaper Newsday published part of the investigator's report. The report showed the boys had drastically changed their version of the events of Mischief Night 1975.

Tom Skakel now recounted a 20-minute make-out session with Moxley. He maintained, however, that he last saw her walking toward her house.

For his part, Michael Skakel told his father's investigator that after returning from his cousin's, he had gone into the Moxley yard with the intention of talking to Martha himself. He climbed a tree, threw pebbles at her window, and finally, getting no response, masturbated in the tree, according to the investigator's report. The boys said they had been too embarrassed to tell their father the truth in 1975.

Not a Kennedy case

In 1998, local prosecutors convinced a Connecticut court to invoke the state's seldom used grand juror process. Connecticut does not have citizen panels as in other states, but in serious, complicated cases such as corruption, fraud, or racketeering, a court can appoint a single grand juror, usually a retired judge, to investigate a crime if all other investigative remedies have been exhausted. The grand juror can force witnesses to give interviews, something outside the purview of prosecutors, and ultimately file charges.

Superior Court Judge George Thim was appointed as a one-man grand jury in June 1998 and interviewed more than 40 witnesses. Once Thim began calling witnesses, it quickly became clear that Michael Skakel was the focus of the probe, even though the proceedings were held in secret.

Prosecutors filed court documents in which they claimed Michael Skakel had made "admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley" while residing at the Elan school in Poland Spring, Maine. Thim heard testimony from former students at the school behind closed doors. Littleton, the tutor, also testified about that evening and was granted immunity from prosecution in return.

Thim's report, released Wednesday, found probable cause to support an application for a murder arrest warrant.

Martha's mother, Dorthy Moxley, told the Daily Record of Morris County, N.J., "this has been the fight of my life.

"This is a wonderful day. I just hope that they find him guilty," she said at her Chatham, N.J., home, sitting at a dining room table beneath a large painting of her daughter. "This is what I've been waiting for."

Skakel's attorney said the Kennedy family connection does not make this a celebrity case.

"It's not a Kennedy trial. ... It's not an O.J. trial," Sherman said. "It's a trial of a young man charged with killing his next door neighbor." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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