Court opens Skakel papers
J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
Authorities have more people lined up to testify in the murder trial of Michael Skakel, including additional witnesses who allegedly heard him make incriminating statements and a witness to a suicide attempt by a distraught teenage Skakel, court documents show.
The 13-page arrest warrant affidavit - unsealed yesterday - refers to statements by six witnesses, identified only by numbers, who were at the substance abuse treatment facility that Skakel attended for alcohol abuse three years after the beating death of Moxley.
The arrest warrant information is similar to testimony provided during a preliminary hearing in June when two former residents of Elan School said Skakel had confessed to them that he killed Moxley with a golf club on the evening of Oct. 31, 1975.
Also released yesterday were court documents detailing for the first time an episode that occurred in about 1976, in which an unnamed Skakel employee told police he witnessed a loud argument between Rushton Skakel and his then teenage son, Michael. The elder Skakel then ordered the employee to drive Michael to New York. When the employee entered the car, he saw that Michael Skakel was holding a knife, and asked him why he was so upset.
"Shut up and drive, or I'll stab you," Skakel reportedly replied.
Minutes later, Skakel told the employee that he (Skakel) "had done something very bad and that he needed to get out of the country, and that he needed to kill himself," the affidavit states. Skakel then reportedly jumped out of the vehicle.
The employee said he contacted Rushton Skakel, who instructed him to try to intercept Michael at his psychologist's office. The employee found Michael Skakel, drove him to his psychologist's office and waited nearly an hour.
Then a staff member informed the employee that Skakel had fled. Staff members found Skakel, persuaded him to return to the office, and the employee and Skakel began the drive home.
While traveling over the Triborough Bridge, however, Skakel jumped from the car and began to climb the bridge, the employee told police. The employee got him back into the car, only to have Skakel again leave the vehicle and begin climbing the bridge. The affidavit does not indicate what, if anything, Skakel said during these episodes.
The incident was detailed in an affidavit submitted by lead investigator Frank Garr, a patrolman at the time of Moxley's death. Garr's affidavit was among the 347 pages of court documents unsealed yesterday.
Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman, said the newly released information bolstered his belief that the state's case against his client is weak.
Sherman said in previous cases in which he represented defendants facing murder charges, the arrest warrant affidavits "always" referred to physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that directly linked the defendant to the crime.
The affidavit confirms what sources have said for more than a year: The affidavit contains no references to fingerprints, footprints or blood evidence which, through advanced DNA technology, could link Skakel inextricably to the crime scene.
"The way you arrest somebody is to persuade the judge that there's enough evidence to make an arrest," Sherman said. "There's no smoking gun here."
Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney John Smriga disagreed, stating that prosecutors need to show a judge only there is probable cause for the warrant to be signed.
"There is no requirement that the state has to put all of its evidence in an (arrest) affidavit," he said. "Obviously you don't want to understate (the state's case) so that the judge doesn't sign (the warrant). But it just isn't the case that you put everything you have in the warrant."
Smriga refused to say whether the case against Skakel included incriminating physical evidence.
The only evidence referred to in the arrest warrant affidavit was the weapon used to kill Moxley, which investigators linked to Skakel's family.
The newly unsealed documents show that the former rehab resident who first reported incriminating statements allegedly made by Skakel was a woman who contacted Greenwich police in September 1980.
"This individual reported that while confined to Elan with Michael Skakel she had engaged in several conversations with him," Garr's affidavit states. "She reported that during one of their conversations, Michael brought up the subject of Martha Moxley's murder. Michael informed this individual that the police were investigating him with regards to Martha's murder, and that at the time of the murder he had been drunk, and might have committed the murder during a blackout."
When reinterviewed by Garr years later, the affidavit states, the woman said, "Michael informed her that his parents were afraid that he had something to do with the murder and placed him in Elan to keep the police from arresting him."
Skakel's arrest warrant was signed Jan. 14, 2000, by Superior Court Judge Richard Comerford Jr. Skakel was subsequently arraigned in juvenile court for the crime he allegedly committed at age 15, but his case was transferred to adult court Jan. 31.
While the case was still in juvenile court, a "reasonable cause" hearing was held to determine whether there was sufficient evidence for a trial. Two former Elan School residents testified, including Gregory Coleman, who testified that Skakel told him that after Moxley spurned his sexual advances, he "drove her skull in" with a golf club.
Coleman further testified that Skakel bragged to him, "I'm going to get away with murder - I'm a Kennedy."
Skakel is nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Now that Michael Skakel is being tried as an adult defendant, a probable cause hearing similar to the juvenile court proceeding in June must be held to determine whether his case should proceed. The hearing is scheduled for April 18.
Timothy Dumas, author of a book on the murder, said he was struck by how many people are noted in the arrest warrant who might testify against Skakel.
"What strikes me is they have a lot of people telling a real similar story," Dumas said. "That just strengthens the story a little bit."
Dumas said the credibility of the alleged confessions would be strengthened if others outside of Elan School were to testify.
"But in the end, it's still really a mystery," Dumas said of the state's case. "I think they're smart to play it that way."
- The Associated Press and The Hartford Courant contributed to this story.