Tipster in Moxley Case Did Not Hear Confession
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

A Florida man who helped kick-start the Martha Moxley murder probe four years ago now says he cannot recall if he ever heard defendant Michael Skakel confess to any involvement in the Greenwich girl's brutal 1975 homicide.

Investigators have confirmed that the long-stalled murder investigation had been reinvigorated by a tip they got from Phil Lawrence after he saw a 1996 episode of the "Unsolved Mysteries" television show featuring the Moxley case.

During a call to the show's tip line, which was monitored by investigators, Lawrence revealed he and Skakel had attended a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center together, and that Skakel's possible involvement in the Moxley murder had been discussed at the rehab center during group therapy sessions.

"The call was a legitimate call," one of the investigators told Greenwich Time in 1998. "It was useful to the investigation."

Officials would not disclose the information that Lawrence provided, but an investigator said the Florida man's call led to interviews with others who had been with Skakel at the Elan School rehab center in Poland Springs, Maine. Some of those former Elan residents would later testify before a grand jury that was convened in 1998 to investigate the Moxley case.

The grand jury heard from 53 witnesses before issuing a Jan. 12 report that was used by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict to obtain a warrant for Skakel's arrest. Skakel was charged with Moxley's murder upon surrendering to Greenwich police Jan. 19. Skakel, who has not yet entered a plea, was arraigned on the murder charge last Tuesday in state Superior Court in Stamford. A probable cause hearing is scheduled for June 20.

Lawrence was never called before the grand jury, however, and in an interview last week with Greenwich Time it became apparent why - he said he had no firsthand knowledge of incriminating statements Skakel may have made at Elan School.

"I was asked if I could swear to the fact that Mike told me if he killed that girl or not," Lawrence said. "I couldn't, and I still can't, though it was common knowledge at Elan that he did" apparently make such an admission. "Why am I not shocked?" asked Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman, upon learning of Lawrence's comments yesterday. "I see myself asking, 'Why was Michael Skakel ever arrested?' "

According to an "Unsolved Mysteries" internal report of Lawrence's February 1996 telephone call, a copy of which was obtained by Greenwich Time, Lawrence said he and Skakel had been at the Elan School rehab center in Poland Springs, and that "Michael admitted to the people there that he did it with a golf club."

The internal report further stated that "Michael told a lot of people there about this. . Michael said he did it because he was drunk. He told them this in group therapy. Michael did not say specific things about the golf club. He said that he would often have drunken blackouts."

In the interview with Greenwich Time, Lawrence claimed the only firsthand information he could recall getting from Skakel was an account of an outing with Skakel's famed Kennedy cousins.

"The one thing I can remember for certain (was) him telling me how he had gotten drunk and blacked out on a ski trip with his cousins and woke up the next day in women's clothing," Lawrence said. "He told me (this) when I was probably 16, and that's the type of thing a teenage boy does not forget."

In the call he made to "Unsolved Mysteries," according to the show's internal report, Lawrence said Skakel's alleged admissions concerning Moxley's murder had been recorded, and that the tapes were in the possession of Elan School's director, Joseph Ricci.

Ricci, who consistently has denied having any knowledge of Skakel's alleged admissions, successfully used a claim of therapist-patient confidentiality to fight off attempts by Connecticut prosecutors to compel his grand jury testimony. His claim was upheld by the state Appellate Court last year, overturning a Superior Court ruling.

In a September 1998 affidavit Benedict lodged with Maine authorities that had paved the way for Ricci's appearance in a Connecticut courtroom, the prosecutor revealed what he had learned from those who had been with Skakel at the rehab center: "To date, (I) have been informed by several former residents of Elan that Joseph Ricci was present and overheard Michael Skakel make admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley; that said admissions were made by Michael Skakel in response to being confronted by Mr. Ricci and other Elan staff members as to Skakel's involvement in the matter."

Although grand juries are held in secret, and witness' testimony is confidential, a peek at what some former rehab center residents may have testified about came in a November 1998 open court hearing to decide Ricci's confidentiality claim. During that hearing, former Elan School resident Chuck Seigan was asked by Benedict to describe a group therapy session in which Michael Skakel was the focus and which had been led by Ricci.

"What was the subject?" Benedict asked. "(Ricci) addressed one of the reasons why (Skakel) was there," Seigan replied.

When asked by the prosecutor to be more specific, Seigan said, "There were many different reasons, but (Ricci) did bring out the fact that there was a murder."