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CNN Today

Hearing Underway for Connecticut Murder Suspect Michael Skakel

Aired June 20, 2000 - 1:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A court hearing now underway in Connecticut will decide whether 39-year-old murder suspect Michael Skakel will be tried as an adult. The question comes up because Skakel was only 15 when he allegedly bludgeoned a 15-year-old neighbor. He insists he's innocent. But a short time ago, a former classmate testified that Skakel told him he killed Martha Moxley back in 1975.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has more on the notorious case and on a privileged, yet troubled suspect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Michael Skakel appeared in juvenile court to be arraigned in March, he was no longer the popular soccer player, no longer the 15-year-old prep school student who police now say murdered the 15-year-old girl next door, Martha Moxley, bludgeoned to death with a gulf club, Mischief Night, October 30, 1975 in Greenwich Connecticut.

It was in this town that Ethel Skakel married Robert Kennedy in 1950, and here that Ethel's brother Rushton and wife Ann gave birth to Michael, the fifth of seven children.

A son of privilege, Michael Skakel's childhood was marked by tragedy. When he was 12, his mother died after a long battle with cancer. By the age of 18, Skakel had developed substance abuse problems. He entered the Elan Rehabilitation Center in Maine. Police records show he tried to run away several times.

But did he confess to Moxley's murder as reports allege? The headmaster at the Elan school says no.

JOSEPH RICCI, ELAN SCHOOL HEADMASTER: I have never, ever, ever heard of anybody at any time at Elan ever talking in any way about a murder of anyone.

FEYERICK: By the 1990s, Michael Skakel appeared to find his footing, excelling as a world ranking speed skier. He later went to work for his cousin Michael Kennedy at the Citizens Energy Corporation.

One source close to the Kennedy family describes the two cousins as constant companions. But after a falling out with the Kennedy cousin, the source says, Skakel soon moved to Florida, thousands of miles away, but still in the shadow of Martha Moxley's death.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Deborah Feyerick is covering the Skakel trial.

She joins us now live to tell us what's happened in court today -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: Well, Natalie, it was an emotional ending, the morning's hearing. Michael Skakel began to cry during the testimony of one of his former schoolmates. That man, John Higgins, testified that Michael Skakel admitted to killing Martha Moxley late one night when the two were on patrol at the rehabilitation school, something that the young students did at the time to make sure no one would run away.

Now, while John Higgins said that Skakel said to him that he didn't know whether he did do it, he said later on, during the course of these discussions, Skakel said he did it. However, on cross examination, the lawyer for Michael Skakel asked him what he said specifically, and whether an earlier conversation was true or not. And that's when the classmate said: Well, he never specifically told me he killed anybody.

Now there were two other witnesses this morning. One was Martha Moxley's friend, who found the girl's body as she was crossing the yard that day. The second was the former captain, a man by the name of Thomas Keegan. He spoke about the golf club, the murder weapon and that murder -- the golf club was introduced into evidence this morning as well.

The captain pointed out that, of all the pieces of the golf club, the one piece that was missing was the piece that contained the Skakel name. And the captain said that, in his estimation as an officer, he felt that that indicated that somebody from the Skakel family was involved. But again, on cross examination, Michael Skakel's lawyer came out, and at that point, the chief admitted that there were no fingerprints on the golf club, and that there was nothing to indicate that Michael Skakel killed Martha Moxley.

So a bit of a confusing morning here, but a very emotional one -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Deborah Feyerick in Stanford, Connecticut, thanks.

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