Judge to decide whether to proceed with murder trial
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

STAMFORD - A Superior Court judge said he will rule this morning on whether there is enough evidence for Michael Skakel to stand trial for the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.

Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. said he will issue his ruling at 11 a.m. The decision will be based on evidence presented by prosecutors during a two-day probable cause hearing that concluded late yesterday afternoon.

If Kavanewsky rules there is probable cause for Skakel to stand trial, Skakel's attorney will be allowed to make an "offer of proof" that he should be allowed to present witnesses on Skakel's behalf in an attempt to refute the state's case. After defense attorney Michael Sherman explains what evidence those witnesses would provide, the judge can either allow the testimony or set a trial date.

If the judge allows the testimony, he will decide at the conclusion whether he still finds probable cause for a trial.

After the probable cause hearing concluded yesterday, Sherman declined to say what defense witnesses would testify to, other than that they would show the judge "that there are two sides to this story." Sherman said he would call three witnesses, all of whom were at a Maine substance abuse rehabilitation facility at the same time as two of the state's witnesses who testified they heard Skakel confess to murdering Moxley.

In considering his decision, the judge will weigh the statements of those two witnesses and a third man, who said Skakel told him he was at the crime scene the night Moxley was murdered.

One witness, John Higgins, testified that Skakel's confession came during a late night discussion in 1978, while both were residents of the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine. He said they talked about the reasons that had brought them to rehab.

"He related to me that at some point prior to being there, there was a murder and that somehow he was involved," Higgins said.

During the conversation, which lasted about two hours, Higgins said, Skakel was "crying and sobbing" about the evening of the murder and said he had been in a garage looking for a golf club and remembered running through some woods.

"He related to me that he didn't remember what happened after running through the woods," Higgins said. "At a later time, he found out there was a girl murdered, and he didn't remember if he did it. He eventually stated, 'I must've done it.' Then he stated, 'I did it.' "

In cross-examination, Sherman asked Higgins why, when contacted by a state inspector, he denied having heard the alleged confession.

"Do you remember telling Inspector (Frank) Garr, 'I can't remember the conversation?' " Sherman asked.

Higgins said he had lied to avoid involvement in the murder investigation.

"Because of my lack of desire to be sitting where I'm sitting right now," Higgins said.

The witness said he decided to come forward with the information only after telephoning the victim's mother, Dorthy Moxley.

"I thought she was the only person who had the right to ask me to come here," Higgins said.

Prior to Higgins taking the witness stand, Sherman completed his cross-examination of Gregory Coleman, who admitted Wednesday that he used heroin prior to testifying before the grand jury that resulted in Skakel's arrest in January 2000.

Like Higgins, Coleman was a resident of the Elan School rehab at the time Skakel was there for alcohol abuse. On Wednesday, Coleman said Skakel had confessed to bludgeoning Moxley with a golf club and then bragged that he would "get away with it because he's a Kennedy."

Skakel's aunt, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, is the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Coleman's admission of drug use came as he explained why he gave conflicting prior testimony about having heard Skakel confess. On Wednesday, Coleman said that one hour before he appeared before the 1998 grand jury, he shot "one bag" of heroin.

Through court transcripts, Sherman demonstrated that Coleman told the grand jury he heard Skakel confess as many as six times, but on Wednesday the witness said he heard only two confessions.

Upon resuming his cross-examination yesterday, the first thing Sherman asked Coleman was, "Yesterday, were you on drugs?"

"No," Coleman replied.

When asked if he had done drugs prior to yesterday's court appearance, Coleman said he last used heroin Monday and that he took prescribed methadone yesterday for his heroin addiction.

The final state witness was Skakel's childhood best friend, Andrew Pugh, now of Fairfield.

Pugh said that after finishing school the day Moxley's body was discovered, he followed his usual routine of going to Skakel's house to see his friend, but instead of being allowed inside he was met at the doorway by an adult male Pugh didn't recognize. The man told Pugh to wait outside.

The former Greenwich resident said that when Skakel came to the door, he asked his friend, "What's going on," to which Skakel replied, "Did you hear? Martha's been killed."

Pugh said his friendship with Skakel effectively ended that day, and it was not until the early 1990s that their paths crossed, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Christ Church in Greenwich.

After making plans to renew their friendship, Pugh said, Skakel later telephoned him.

"I had some things that were troubling me pertaining to Martha's death, and I told him that, and I asked him, 'Did you have anything to do with Martha's death?' " Pugh said. "He responded, 'No, I didn't, but something really weird happened.' "

Pugh said Skakel told him, "I was up in that tree that night, masturbating."

Showing Pugh a photograph of the tree under which Moxley's body had been found, Pugh identified it as the tree Skakel had referred to. Pugh said he knew that was the tree Skakel had spoken of because when they were friends, they often climbed it together.

State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict declined to comment after the probable cause hearing. Another member of the prosecution team, Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, said that if Kavanewsky did not order Skakel to stand trial, the state would re-evaluate the case to see if a new arrest warrant should be applied for at a later date.

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