Life as suspect took toll on Littleton
By John Christoffersen - Greenwich Time
A quarter century after Martha Moxley was murdered, George Boynton is still angry over how authorities targeted Kenneth Littleton as a suspect.
Littleton, who recently was cleared in the case, arrived in Greenwich on Oct. 30, 1975 - the same day as the murder - to work as a live-in tutor at the Skakel house in exclusive Belle Haven. Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was charged last month with killing 15-year-old Martha, who lived next door.
But Littleton has lived as a murder suspect for most of the years since then.
Boynton, who taught at the private Brunswick School with Littleton and also served as a tutor for the Skakel children, vividly recalled how Greenwich detectives would show up every day at Brunswick. Wearing dark glasses, three or four detectives would stand within four feet of Littleton as he tried to coach students, he said.
"They were bringing big-time heat on him,'' Boynton said. "He was an easy target. It was a disruption of everything that was going on."
Littleton was a big, fun-loving guy, Boynton said.
"The kids liked him,'' he recalled. "He was just starting out in teaching."
Littleton lost his teaching job at Brunswick and another one at St. Luke's School in New Canaan. He developed mental problems and an addiction to alcohol and last year tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide in Boston, authorities said.
Stephen Carroll, a retired Greenwich police detective who was an investigator early in the case, admitted local authorities had a hard time believing someone from Belle Haven killed Martha, who was bludgeoned with a golf club so severely that it broke in three pieces. She was then stabbed through the neck with the shaft.
"We didn't believe one of their own could have done this," Carroll said. "It had to be the outsider."
But Carroll denied that police went to Brunswick School every day or harassed Littleton.
"Early on, we did lean on him heavily," Carroll said. "We'd try to do it discreetly. He wasn't all that cooperative."
Carroll said a lie detector test given to Littleton was inconclusive and noted that Littleton behaved oddly during the summer of 1976 on Nantucket Island. Littleton, who was working as a bouncer and bartender at the time, allegedly was stealing items of no intrinsic value and burying them, Carroll said.
"He did some crazy things," Carroll said.
Greenwich police quickly ruled out Littleton in the murder, but state authorities continued to focus on him as a possible suspect well into the 1990s. A private detective agency hired by the Skakels, Sutton Associates, also tried to build a case against Littleton, attempting unsuccessfully to link him to other murders, according to Timothy Dumas, who wrote a book on the Moxley murder.
Frank Garr, a retired Greenwich detective who continued to investigate the case as an inspector with the state attorney's office, said he could not comment on specifics of the investigation. But he defended the investigation.
"I don't believe he was unfairly targeted," Garr said. "People had to be investigated. They were."
These days, Littleton shares an apartment with his girlfriend near the glistening Massachusetts State House on Boston's Beacon Hill. His girlfriend was unwilling to open the door when a reporter visited last week, referring questions to Littleton's lawyer, Gene Riccio of Bridgeport.
Riccio said he was reluctant to comment because he wants to protect his client's privacy. He also said Littleton may be a witness in the upcoming murder trial.
"I think the investigation over the years had a very adverse effect on him,'' Riccio said. "In some respects, I believe he's still suffering from that today.''
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford, wouldn't discuss how he intends to approach Littleton's possible testimony.
"It's not something I would be announcing at this point," Sherman said. "This is a very troubled young man who's gone through quite a bit, including, as recently as several months ago, a suicide attempt. More importantly, he was perhaps a suspect in this case for many years. Ken Littleton is a very interesting character in this case. É I'm certainly not going to add to his misery right now. We'll see if the state's attorney calls him as a witness and we'll act accordingly."
But other criminal defense lawyers speculate that Sherman will seek access to Littleton's medical records so he can cross-examine him. Before the defense attorney can ask about a witness' medical history in cross-examination, he must ask to see the records himself.
David Moraghan, president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said Littleton's former or existing mental health problems or addictions may not affect his ability to testify.
"Just because a person has a disability doesn't mean they can't testify, as long as he has an understanding of the obligations to tell the truth and an ability to speak cogently," Moraghan said.
It's possible that a judge would prevent Sherman from alerting a jury to Littleton's difficulties.
State law protects a witness' privacy regarding medical records by requiring a cautious procedure in which the trial judge views them first.
Moraghan said he suspects Sherman will ask for Littleton's medical records to be unsealed if he is called as a state's witness.
"(Sherman) probably doesn't know the extent of (the disability)," he said. "He'll try to get that information, but there's no guarantee he will."
To open such private records, the defendant would have to show that data within the records indicates that the disability would affect his capacity to understand what he knows and relate it truthfully.
When a defendant's request to review a state witness' medical records is made, the judge usually reviews the information first "in camera," or privately in his chambers.
After the judge sees the records, he decides whether the contents should be disclosed to the defense.
The judge's decision can be vetoed by the witness. In that case, all of his testimony would be stricken from the record.
Often, though, people with mental illnesses are able to testify without sharing their medical records. A jury may well find that person a believable witness.
"People treated for depression are quite regularly called as witnesses," Moraghan said. Criminal cases, by their nature, often involve people adversely affected by their proximity to misfortune, he said.
Brendon Leydon, a criminal defense attorney in Hartford and chairman of the state Appellate Practice Committee, said that trying to ferret out a witness' medical history is not always advisable.
"It really has a huge potential to backfire on a defense attorney," Leydon said. "If, eight years ago, a guy had an alcohol problem and he's been clean since, a jury might end up getting angry at the attorney, and so the defendant, for bringing that up."
A witness' mental health problems or addiction also may be an issue for an appeal, Leydon said.
A defense attorney or the state could argue after the trial that the judge didn't weigh properly the two factors in opening medical records: the harm a witness suffers when his privacy is violated and the constitutional right of the defendant to defend himself, Leydon said.
Just before his suicide attempt last summer, Littleton granted his first interview to Greenwich Time. The interview was given after Littleton was granted immunity from prosecution in return for testimony to a state grand jury. Those proceedings led to Skakel's arrest last month.
"My life, after Oct. 30, 1975, was a spiraling descent into the depths of hell,'' said Littleton, who fell into drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and petty crime.
In the years after the Moxley murder, Littleton continued to be dogged by Greenwich detectives as well as the media and moved to Florida, where he had scrapes with the law for drunken driving and other offenses. He married and then divorced. He moved to Canada, then to Australia, and finally returned to live with his parents in Boston.
Littleton's mother also declined comment last week on her son.
Dumas, author of "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community," said in an interview Wednesday that authorities were obligated to investigate Littleton because of his behavior on Nantucket Island in the fall of 1976. In the absence of clear answers on any suspects, Dumas said he found it hard to fault police for targeting Littleton.
But Dumas agreed that Littleton was devastated as a result of living as a murder suspect for so long. In the book, Dumas called Littleton "the most psychologically damaged person in this story.''
"He's one of the tragedies of this case,'' Dumas said. "One of the many.''
- Staff Writer Kerry Tesoriero contributed to this report.