Hair sample may change Skakel case
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time
Hair found on a sheet used to wrap Martha Moxley's body at the scene of the 1975 murder bears strong similarities to hair samples from an earlier suspect, Kenneth Littleton, who was later granted immunity in the case, said two sources who spoke yesterday on the condition of anonymity.
Littleton had been a chief suspect in the case but received immunity when he testified before a one-judge grand jury, whose investigation led to the January 2000 arrest of Michael Skakel.
Skakel and Moxley were both 15 at the time of the murder and lived near each other in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich.
The hair does not definitively match samples from Littleton, the Skakel family tutor who moved into their home on Otter Rock Drive the day the murder occurred, but the fibers are almost an identical match, one of the sources said.
Littleton, reached by telephone at his home yesterday, referred questions to his attorney, Gene Riccio.
"Mr. Littleton has historically maintained his innocence and continues to do so today," Riccio said. "This purported evidence doesn't change that."
Littleton's defenders say his life was unfairly ruined by the suspicions that surrounded him for many years. They say he did not know the victim, had an alibi and cooperated with authorities.
The evidence may be significant because Littleton has said he never met Moxley, the source added.
However, forensic experts said hairs can easily be transferred from one person or object to another. Moxley was at the Skakel house and sat in one of the family's cars the night she was murdered. It is not clear whether the sheet came from the Skakel house or police.
Forensic scientists examine hair under a microscope and compare it to a known sample by looking at color, pigment, shape and length. They see whether the hair is segmented or if it is continuous.
"Because there are variations even within an individual, a microscopic comparison in itself cannot be definitive," said Paul Ferrara, director of the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences. "The only way to really make it more definitive is to attempt to do mitochondrial DNA testing as a confirmatory tool."
The sources did not say whether mitochondrial DNA testing had been done on the hair samples.
Many people have similar hair, said Dr. Cyril Wecht, a top forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh. But prosecutors can't simply dismiss such evidence, either, he said.
Wecht said the relevance of the hair depends on many factors, including whether Littleton had prior contact with Moxley and where the sheets came from, he said.
"I think it is significant and would require thorough investigation," Wecht said.
Getting the hair admitted as evidence may require a higher standard than "somewhat similar," said Hugh Keefe, a defense attorney in New Haven.
"If that was admissible evidence, then clearly it's great for the defense," Keefe said.
Last month, without giving a reason, prosecutors withdrew their request for a sample of Michael Skakel's DNA after testing evidence that included clippings from Martha Moxley's nails and hair samples from an unidentified source.
Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, could use the hair found on the sheet to raise doubt in jurors' minds by showing that there could be other suspects. Sherman has mentioned on several occasions, including in a courtroom, that Littleton failed three polygraph tests.
"A defense attorney who is offering evidence of an alternative suspect has a very high burden before that evidence will even make it to the jury," local attorney Philip Russell said. "A defense attorney can't just fill the room with smoke unless the smoke is coming from a particular gun. But if the hairs are proven to be someone else's, it's of enormous benefit to the defense."
Sherman would not comment yesterday except to say, "It is inappropriate for me to comment on the nature and quality of any evidence at this time."
Frank Garr, the lead investigator for the prosecution, also would not comment.
Henry Lee, the state forensic scientist who investigated the case about 10 years ago in a report that was never made public, also has declined to comment on the case.
Littleton, who is on the prosecution's list of prospective witnesses, said earlier this week it was likely he would testify in the case.
Jury selection in his trial begins next month. The trial is tentatively slated to begin May 7 in Norwalk.
During his two decades as a murder suspect, Littleton was unable to hold onto jobs, his mental condition deteriorated and he abused alcohol and drugs. He spent time at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility outside Boston, and allegedly tried to commit suicide, police said.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Copyright (c) 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.