Kennedys may be in evidence at Skakel trial
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., his brothers, Maxwell and Douglas Kennedy, and his mother, Ethel Kennedy, will attend portions of Michael Skakel's trial when it begins in May in Norwalk, Robert Kennedy Jr. said yesterday.

Skakel, who is related to the Kennedys through Ethel, his father's sister, will be tried for the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley. Skakel's connection to the Kennedy family thrust his case into the national spotlight, experts and lawyers have said.

Although the Kennedy family has a reputation for being tight-knit and coming to the aid of family members, Robert Kennedy Jr. said that is not what is happening in Skakel's case.

"It would be a mistake for people to assume that the Kennedy presence at Michael's trial has anything to do with family loyalty," he said. "Everybody in my family believes that the court should lock up whoever did this crime and throw away the key. We are showing up because we know that Michael Skakel is innocent."

Kennedy, 48, and Skakel, 41, are first cousins. Kennedy said he no longer considers them close, although Skakel visited him at his Westchester County, N.Y., home three months ago and the two spent an afternoon together.

"I had a brotherly relationship with him for many years," Kennedy said. "We were practically best friends. I feel like I know everything about him."

He declined to discuss why the men grew apart.

The two families, who joined in 1950 when Ethel Skakel, now 73, married Robert F. Kennedy, have always had some distance between them, Kennedy family experts have said. For one thing, the Skakels were staunch Republicans and the Kennedys were Democrats.

"The families were quite competitive, as they were both part of the Catholic aristocracy and they both had very different approaches to things," said Laurence Leamer, author of "The Kennedy Men."

"The Kennedys had immense political ambitions, but the Skakels were satisfied with their own world. They weren't seeking to become part of acceptable society in Greenwich. They tended to be more generous and just have a good time."

Skakel's arrest in January 2000 for Moxley's murder resulted from an 18-month investigation by a one-judge grand jury in Bridgeport.

Skakel, who in 1975 lived across the street from the victim in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich, was one of several youths who were with Moxley the evening she was killed. The murder weapon has been identified by authorities as a 6-iron belonging to a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family.

In 1998, Michael Skakel wrote a book proposal that he called "Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean," in which he made allegations that some Kennedy family members apparently found offensive.

Among other things, Skakel accused his cousin Michael Kennedy -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s late brother -- of having an illegal affair with the family's teenage baby-sitter.

Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, affirmed that any Kennedy presence at the trial would not stem from devotion.

"It's no secret that Michael was at odds with that family and had a bizarre book proposal out that was offensive to them," Sherman said. "So, it's significant that they have a firm belief in Skakel and his innocence."

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said he did not think jurors would be distracted by the Kennedys.

"I can't see how they could have an effect on this case one way or the other," Benedict said. "I think we'll pick a jury that can deal with those issues."

Despite their sometimes-troubled history, Robert Kennedy Jr. said there are no problems today between the Kennedys and the Skakels.

"My mother, who joined the families together, never had any bitterness toward Michael," Kennedy said. "She understands what he's been through."

Kennedy has close relationships with Michael Skakel's brothers, Thomas Skakel, Rushton Skakel Jr. and David Skakel, because they are all outdoors people, he said. Kennedy is an environmental lawyer.

Thomas Skakel worked until recently at Butternut Ski Resort in Massachusetts. David Skakel runs a recycling program in Oregon and Rushton Skakel Jr. spends much of his time living in Colombia, where his wife is from, and his home in Nantucket, Mass.

Thomas Skakel shares a close relationship with the Kennedy family. He attended Robert Kennedy Jr.'s birthday party last month and often visits Ethel Kennedy. Douglas Kennedy is a frequent visitor at Skakel's Massachusetts home.

"We're all close," Robert Kennedy Jr. said. "We're cousins. We do stuff together."

But the Robert F. Kennedy family is the only part of the Kennedy clan in touch with the Skakel family, several sources said. Other Kennedys would not even recognize members of that family.

A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Judicial Branch said none of the Kennedy family has requested seats for the trial in state Superior Court in Norwalk, but the department is saving seats for the Skakel and Moxley families.

Ethel Kennedy did not return a call for comment.

Copyright (c) 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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