Police call Skakel arrest a vindication
By Jonathan Lucas - Greenwich Time
Michael Skakel's surrender to Greenwich police earlier this week in connection with the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley has lifted a burden off the back of the Greenwich Police Department and done much to dispel the stigma of ineptitude and bowing to family influence, Greenwich police officials, past and present, said this week.
The 24-year-old mystery has raised questions about the Greenwich Police Department's handling of the investigation of the brutal murder.
On Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Peter Robbins stood proudly outside police headquarters wearing his sharply pressed dress-blue uniform awaiting the arrival of Skakel to turn himself in. It was a duty Robbins said was in deference to past chiefs and investigators who toiled for years to make an arrest.
"I felt when I stood there in uniform that I represented all the former chiefs who had been under intense pressure and the investigators who worked on the case who couldn't be here to see an individual surrendering in connection with the case," Robbins said in an interview in his office yesterday. "I stood there to represent them. We still don't have closure, but it is a step forward."
The murder investigation spanned the terms of six police chiefs, including that of Thomas Keegan, who called Skakel's arrest enormously gratifying.
"I don't think a week has gone by that this case was not on my mind," said Keegan, who retired as chief in 1986 and now serves as a state representative representing his new home of Surfside Beach, S.C. "It's been an enormous disappointment for me and the family all these years."
Keegan, 60, first led the Greenwich Police Department's investigation of the 15-year-old girl's murder as captain of the detective bureau. Keegan downplayed the notion of the department's reputation in the wake of the unsolved murder, saying that the department was always strongly committed to bringing the cased to a resolution.
Keegan said he is grateful to State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict and Frank Garr, the state's attorney's lead investigator and a retired Greenwich detective on the case, for their devotion to bringing closure for himself and most importantly for the Moxley family.
"The only relief the family can have is knowing who is responsible, and for that I'm grateful," Keegan said. "Garr worked tirelessly on this and he deserves all the credit. Nothing can take the place of persistence. It overcomes all barriers, and that's been proven by this arrest."
Steve Carroll, who was among the first detectives at the scene of the murder in the quiet Belle Haven neighborhood 24 years ago, said yesterday there has been a "self-sustaining stigma" on the department because of mistakes made early on in the investigation of the murder.
Carroll said he regrets that investigators did not insist on the state medical examiner coming immediately to examine Moxley's body. The passage of a day and the removal of her body from the crime scene has made an accurate determination of her time of death difficult, he said.
"There has been a stigma of mistakes made, and some mistakes were made," Carroll said. "It's unfortunate, but it's true."
Moxley's body was found beneath a tree in the yard of her Belle Haven home on Oct. 31, 1975. She had been out in the neighborhood the night before with a group of teenagers, including Michael and Thomas Skakel. Police say she was beaten and stabbed through the neck with a 6-iron golf club identified as coming from a set owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street. Michael and Thomas Skakel, 15 and 17 at the time respectively, were both with Martha the night of her death.
In the days and years following the discovery of Moxley's body, the Greenwich Police Department often has been criticized for early forensic mistakes and perceived preferential treatment of the powerful and wealthy Skakel family, despite early indications the Skakel sons could have been involved.
Two recently published nonfiction accounts - "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community" by Timothy Dumas and "Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?" by former Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman - dissected the case, also calling into question the Police Department's handling of the investigation.
Carroll said he had been pessimistic an arrest would be made in the case, but that he was pleasantly surprised earlier this week.
"I never believed it would come to fruition," Carroll said. "I thought the grand jury would go through the formality of gathering evidence in the case, but I thought they would come back and say there was not enough evidence to issue an indictment."
Robbins said the public perception of his department being unable to solve major crimes is an unfair depiction. Robbins was a young cop assigned to the department's Patrol Division at the time of the murder, but said he always believed Keegan led a very competent investigation with a team of seasoned detectives.
"It's a case where there was a limited amount of physical and trace evidence, a lack of witnesses and a confession," Robbins said. "When you have a case like that, you're going to have problems."
Robbins said his department has a positive reputation within the law enforcement community as a progressive organization that has solved a number of difficult cases, such as the identification of the so-called dinnertime bandit. The chief said the stigma of incompetence is unjustified and irritating since it hurts the reputation and credibility of past and present officers.
"Reputation is something you earn," Robbins said. "It's not something that's given to you. I think we're trying to earn it back from when it may have been clouded, and that's a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job."