Skakel trial end of long road of hard work, luck
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

Perseverance, publicity, luck.

That is why someone is finally headed to trial 25 years after teenager Martha Moxley was bludgeoned to death in Greenwich.

"It's been a combination of all those things, especially hard work and a little good fortune," said John Moxley, the 15-year-old victim's brother.

It is a homicide some said wouldn't - or couldn't - be solved. Investigators were stumped for nearly two decades after the fateful night of Oct. 30, 1975.

But then came a confluence of unlikely factors that less than two years ago led to a grand jury investigation, and ultimately, the arrest of one of Moxley's former Greenwich neighbors, Michael Skakel, nephew of the late Robert F. Kennedy. Wednesday, in a long-awaited decision, a state Superior Court judge transferred the case to adult court, with Skakel's arraignment expected within two weeks. He maintains his innocence.

In 1991, Greenwich Time published a lengthy article about the Moxley murder investigation, based on hundreds of pages of police reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Shortly after, a Kennedy family member became embroiled in a sensational rape trial in Florida. The defendant, William Kennedy Smith, was rumored to have been at the Skakels' home in Greenwich the night Moxley was slain.

That year, State's Attorney Donald Browne held a news conference at Greenwich police headquarters to announce the homicide was being reinvestigated.

The Kennedy rumor proved to be false, but it, and the announcement of a reinvestigation, once again put the case in the national media spotlight.

Well-known author Dominick Dunne was the first to capitalize, penning "A Season in Purgatory," a novel inspired by the Moxley murder that led to a television mini-series.

Assigned to the case on a full-time basis were state Inspector John Solomon and Greenwich Detective Frank Garr. While Solomon and Browne still leaned toward former Skakel live-in tutor Kenneth Littleton as the prime suspect, Garr was beginning to look elsewhere.

"I always believed, even back in the late 1980s, that Michael was more involved in this than anyone believed, that there wasn't enough known about him and his actions on that evening (of the murder), and that was something that had to be looked into," Garr said. "Given the opportunity, and when we started the reinvestigation, I took it upon myself to do just that."

One of the things Garr wanted to scrutinize was Skakel's stay at a substance abuse rehabilitation facility in Poland Spring, Maine. Skakel was sent to the Elan School after a 1978 drunken-driving accident, and remained there until 1980.

"I got no cooperation from the school whatsoever," Garr recalled.

As a result, the reinvestigation all but stalled.

But also in 1991, and because of renewed law enforcement activity, the Skakels hired the Sutton Associates private investigation firm to look into any possible involvement of family members in the murder. For the investigation, private detectives interviewed Skakel and his older brother Thomas, both of whom admitted to having lied to police after their neighbor was murdered.

If true, the revised alibis given to the Sutton investigators would put both Michael, then 15, and Thomas, then 17, at or near the crime scene around the time Moxley was beaten to death with a golf club owned by the Skakel family.

Because the investigation had seemingly stalled, both the Moxley family and Garr had been trying to get the murder story aired on the television show Unsolved Mysteries, with the hopes it would generate new leads. The show had turned them down before, but when the results of the Sutton investigation were leaked and then published by Greenwich Time in 1995, the show was interested.

Garr flew to the West Coast, where Unsolved Mysteries is produced, and sat by a telephone in the television studio waiting for tips as the Moxley segment aired.

"I didn't know who I was going to get calls from," Garr said. "I went to California thinking, 'Gee, I hope the phone even rings.' "

But the calls came, including some from people who had been in rehab with Skakel and claimed to have heard Skakel confess to the murder while at Elan School.

The investigator spent months tracking the callers down, and then went looking for other people whose names cropped up during those interviews. Slowly the state's case against Skakel as the possible murderer grew. There was renewed debate about convening a grand jury in order to compel reluctant witnesses to testify, but the idea was quashed by then-State's Attorney Donald Browne.

Then, in the spring of 1998, two nonfiction books about the case were published: "Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?" by former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, and "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community" by Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native and former local journalist.

Fuhrman, who was given a copy of the Sutton Associates report by Dunne - to whom the report had been leaked by a Sutton employee - used the detective agency's findings as a blueprint for his book, which named Michael Skakel as the likely killer of Martha Moxley. Shortly after the book's publication, Fuhrman publicly called for a grand jury.

And as a result of Dumas' book, which included speculation by unnamed journalists that the Moxley investigation had been impeded by bribery, Browne - who headed the probe since the beginning and remained on the case as special prosecutor upon retiring as state's attorney in October 1997 - abruptly removed himself from the case in April 1998. Browne said he stepped down to eliminate any possible "conflict of interest" perceptions, explaining that which ever way he would have proceeded with the case would have been tarnished by the rumors.

The following month, Browne's successor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, applied for and was granted a rarely used one-judge investigative grand jury.

"I think Donald Browne's resignation was a significant milestone," John Moxley said, "because I don't think he would ever have been as aggressive as Jon Benedict has been."

For 18 months the grand jury operated behind closed doors in the Fairfield County Courthouse, hearing the testimony of more than 50 witnesses. Superior Court Judge George Thim, who oversaw the investigation, issued a report that was used to obtain a warrant for Michael Skakel's arrest.

Skakel, then 39 and living in Hobe Sound, Fla., traveled to Greenwich to surrender at police headquarters on Jan. 18, 2000. At a June probable cause hearing, two former Elan School residents testified Skakel had confessed to the murder.

Although he was initially arraigned as a juvenile, as he was 15 years old at the time of the murder, Skakel's case on Wednesday was ordered transferred to adult court.

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