Witness: Skakel 'probably' drove away in car before dog began barking
By John Springer, Court TV
NORWALK, Conn. —Testifying for the prosecution in Michael Skakel's murder trial Thursday, a witness cast doubt on whether Skakel was even at the scene during the time the defense contends his 15-year-old neighbor was killed.
Helen Ix Fitzpatrick said the defendant may have driven away in a car before her dog, "Zocks," began barking "violently" in the direction of the spot where Martha Moxley's body was later found.
Fitzpatrick, who was friendly with both Martha and Skakel, said her dog's behavior between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. on Oct. 30, 1975, was out of character.
"He was always barking but not like that. He barked at everything and chased cars. He even barked at us," Fitzpatrick testified. "That night he was barking and barking. He wouldn't come. He would always come when I called to him ... He was definitely disturbed by something."
Because the defense says that Zocks and numerous other dogs in the Belle Haven community of Greenwich were detecting the fear Martha must have been feeling as someone beat her about the head with a golf club, Fitzpatrick's testimony lends credence to the defense contention that Skakel was not at the scene during the murder.
Prosecutor Susann Gill tried to blunt the damage inflicted by her own witness by pointing out that Fitzpatrick's family is so close to the Skakels that she referred to the defendant's father as "Uncle Rush." Fitzpatrick conceded that she felt sympathy for Michael Skakel but said it was "more probable than not," a phrase the judge used, that Skakel was in a car with relatives when the witness's dog began barking incessantly in the direction of the crime scene.
In addition to trying to establish that Fitzpatrick was unsure if Skakel was in the car, Gill also attempted to demonstrate that Fitzpatrick would not have been in a position to see if Skakel or anyone got out of the car down the street. Gill also suggested through her questions that Fitzpatrick's dog could have been barking at neighborhood "kids" causing a commotion on the night before Halloween, or "Mischief Night" as it was known.
Although Fitzpatrick believes Skakel was in the car, she said in response to a question by Gill that she was not absolutely sure. The prosecution and defense sparred over the testimony, but eventually defense lawyer Mickey Sherman played a tape of Fitzpatrick's Nov. 14, 1975, interview with police in which she said that Michael Skakel was in the car when she, Martha, Michael Skakel's brother Thomas and friend Geoffrey Byrne got out and remained behind.
Feeling like "a third wheel," Fitzpatrick testified that when she and Byrne left Martha and Thomas Skakel shortly before 9:30 p.m. to go home the two were flirting playfully.
The unexpected blow to the prosecution came just a day after another prosecution witness, a former police captain, testified he had sought an arrest warrant application for the defendant's brother, Thomas Skakel, now 43, although a prosecutor refused to sign the warrant and Thomas Skakel was never charged.
Fitzpatrick's testimony was contradicted by prosecution witness Andrea Shakespeare Renna, who was 16 and friendly with both the Skakels and Martha in 1975. Renna, who now lives in Massachusetts, testified that Michael Skakel was home — and did not leave in the car with others — when Renna left the Skakel home at 9:45 p.m.
According to Renna, who attended dinner with the Skakels at the Belle Haven Club that night, she was playing backgammon with Michael and Thomas when Fitzpatrick and another teenager — whom she later learned was Martha Moxley — entered the house through a door and greeted Julia Skakel, Michael's sister. Renna said on direct examination that she was certain that Michael and Thomas were still at home when Rushton Skakel Sr. drove cousin Jim Terrien across town to his house.
If the jury believes Renna, Michael Skakel lied about being at Terrien's home about the time that police — at least in the early years of the investigation — believed the killing occurred.
Sherman quickly used documents to attack Renna's memory and credibility. He produced one report from 1991 to show that Renna told inspector Frank Garr that it had long been her "impression" that Michael was not in the car. Renna said it is possible that she never mentioned that to investigators before then and she did not contact anyone in law enforcement after being "shocked" by a claim in one of three books about the case that Michael Skakel claimed he was across town.
"I was stunned. It was counter to what I knew," Renna testified.
The witness, the prosecution's 12th in three days, also told jurors that Michael Skakel was "hyper" the day after the murder when he told Renna and Julie Skakel what all the police activity in Belle Haven was about.
"We asked about the commotion. He said Martha was killed and that he and Thomas were the last to see her that night," Renna said.
Before Fitzpatrick took the stand Thursday, another friend of the victim, Jackie Wetenhall O'Hara, read from portions of Martha's diary and agreed that the passages for the months before the murder accurately reflected Martha's relationship with Thomas and Michael Skakel. Martha called both brothers "an ass" in different entries and seemed ambivalent to Thomas Skakel's advances. O'Hara, whom Michael Skakel liked when they were teenagers, smiled nervously when she identified the now 41-year-old defendant in court.
O'Hara confirmed that she observed Martha and Thomas Skakel flirting on occasion, testimony the prosecution offered to support its theory that Michael and Thomas Skakel were rivals for Martha's affections, and that's why she was killed.
On cross-examination, however, Sherman got O'Hara to agree that there is nothing in the 15-year-old's diary excerpt that foretold the tragic and brutal end of her life.
Jury shown golf club
As the third day of testimony opened Thursday, jurors were shown a Toney Penna four-iron that police say came from the same set as the six-iron used to inflict eight or nine blows to Martha's head before she was stabbed with a piece of broken shaft.
Retired Greenwich police detective James Lunney testified that he found the club in a barrel in the mudroom of the Skakel home about 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1975, the day Martha's body was found. Lunney returned to the Skakel home the next day and retrieved the club with the consent of homeowner Rushton Skakel Sr., father of the defendant and a brother of Ethel Kennedy.
The four-iron, which jurors were given to handle and examine, once bore a label identifying the owner of the club as "Mrs. R.W. Skakel, Greenwich [Country Club]." Police believe Martha's killer broke off the handle of the murder weapon and got rid of it in a failed effort to keep police from linking the club to the Skakel household.
Sherman, however, pointed out through Lunney's testimony that the four-iron was in plain sight when police visited the Skakel home on Oct. 31, 1975, and was still there the following day.
"No one hid it? No one made any attempt to prevent you from seeing it?" Sherman asked.
"No," Lunney replied, agreeing that the club was in plain view.