Rehab owner in Skakel case dies
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

Joseph Ricci the flamboyant founder of a controversial Maine drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility where Michael Skakel allegedly confessed to having murdered Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley, died yesterday at the Maine Medical Center in Portland.

The cause of death was cancer, according to Ricci's attorney, Henry Shamoski of Portland, Maine. Ricci was 54.

Ricci was co-founder and owner of Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, which Skakel attended from 1978 to 1980 after a drunken driving accident in New York. A native of Port Chester, N.Y., and admitted former heroin addict, Ricci employed at Elan such unconventional treatment methods as boxing matches and other angry confrontations between residents to force them to confront past misdeeds.

During a probable cause hearing last year in state Superior Court in Stamford, former clients of Elan testified that Skakel had confided to them about murdering his 15-year-old neighbor with a golf club on Oct. 30, 1975. The deadline for a judge's ruling on whether Skakel will be tried as a juvenile or an adult for the crime he allegedly committed at age 15 is Feb. 20.

In addition to the testimony of former Elan residents, prosecutors have claimed in court records that Ricci was present when Skakel allegedly confessed.

"Joseph Ricci was present and overheard Michael Skakel make admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley," one prosecutor's affidavit states. "(The) admissions were made by Michael Skakel in response to being confronted by Mr. Ricci and other Elan staff members as to Skakel's involvement in the matter."

The affidavit was lodged in a Maine court in 1998 when Ricci refused to comply with a Connecticut subpoena to appear before the grand jury in Bridgeport that probed the Moxley murder for 18 months. Ricci lost that battle in Maine, as well as a subsequent fight in Connecticut in which Ricci claimed anything Skakel might have said at Elan was privileged information.

In February 1999, a Superior Court judge ruled that Ricci must testify because there was no evidence that Skakel was treated by a psychiatrist at Elan School.

What Ricci told the grand jury is unknown because the transcripts remain sealed. But in numerous interviews, Ricci steadfastly denied he ever heard Skakel make incriminating statements.

While taking one of his many cigarette breaks during his lengthy closed-door testimony in September 1998, Ricci told Greenwich Time, "I am not aware of any statement made by any student at Elan School admitting complicity in any murder. I have searched my memory in that regard, and I do not believe that I have, or ever had, any such evidence."

During such breaks, Ricci enjoyed holding court of his own in the hallways of the Fairfield County Courthouse in Bridgeport. One day, while dressed all in black with a tie featuring a panther, reporters clustered around to hear what the racetrack owner and two-time Maine gubernatorial candidate would say next.

He promised the reporters that on his next trip to Connecticut he would bring each a Maine lobster, and bragged about using the $600 the Bridgeport prosecutor's office had sent him for transportation on the white stretch limousine in which he had arrived at the courthouse.

"The limo cost the same as a plane from Portland to Hartford would've," he said.

Ricci was owner of the Scarborough Downs racetrack in Maine, and made two unsuccessful bids for the Maine statehouse, most recently in 1998.

Shamoski, a Portland attorney who represented Ricci in connection with the Connecticut grand jury as well as other matters, said Ricci had entered the hospital on Thursday, weak from the chemotherapy being used to fight his lung cancer.

Ricci had part of a lung removed about two years ago, and for a time it was thought the cancer was in remission, Shamoski said.

Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, said although Ricci's denials of hearing a murder confession had helped Skakel in the court of public opinion, he did not believe the loss of Ricci as a potential witness at trial will hurt his client's case.

"It won't hurt us at all," Sherman said.

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