Skakel patriarch takes stand in son's murder trial, remembers little
By John Springer - Court TV
NORWALK, Conn. — The 78-year-old father of a Kennedy cousin on trial for the 1975 golf club murder of a 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor had difficulty remembering much of anything when he was called to testify Wednesday.
Rushton Skakel Sr., the brother of Ethel Kennedy and the retired chairman of the Great Lakes Carbon Corp., could not recall much about the events of October 1975 or even more contemporary things.
"What happened on September 11th of last year?" Michael Skakel's defense lawyer, Mickey Sherman, asked Rushton Skakel on cross-examination. Sherman sat down after he got an answer.
"It was a very big incident but I don't remember the details," said the witness, who suffers from dementia.
Prosecutor Susann Gill called the patriarch of the Skakel family to testify in an effort to prove the prosecution's contention in its opening statement May 7 that there was a conspiracy to cover up the crime.
Former Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton, who has also been described as a babysitter from Rushton Skakel's seven children at the time of the killings, testified previously that there were 15 or 20 lawyers at the Skakel home when he returned from work the day Martha's body was found.
Prosecution witness James McKenzie, however, testified Wednesday that he was the only lawyer at the house in the late afternoon hours of Oct. 31, 1975. McKenzie, now the president of Great Lakes Carbon Corp., told jurors that he never told Littleton to take Michael Skakel and three other relatives to the Catskills. Littleton claims he did so in consultation with "the suits," a reference to lawyers.
Rushton Skakel Sr. said he was not familiar with McKenzie's name. He recognized the name of his sister, Georgeann Terrien, but could only place her as a "close family relative."
The elder Skakel, who now resides in Hobe Sound, Fla., remembers Littleton but does not recall authorizing the tutor to take Michael Skakel, Thomas Skakel, John Skakel and cousin Jim Terrien to the Skakel's ski lodge in the Catskills on Nov. 1, 1975. Rushton Skakel Sr. did say that Littleton would not have made the trip unless Skakel gave his blessing.
"No, not without my authorization," Skakel testified.
When Skakel left the witness stand with the help of a large, burly, marshal, jurors watched as he shuffled slowly toward the defense table. The defendant smiles at his father and the two hugged.
In other developments Wednesday, the seventh day of the trial:
- A hair found on a sheet used to cover Martha's body was determined by a recent mitochondrial DNA test proved that the hair did not match a blood sample from Littleton, Dr. Terry Melton of Mitotyping Technologies Inc. testified. She said the DNA profile of the hair suggested that it was possibly contributed by someone of Asian ancestry. "It wasn't Dr. [Henry] Lee's hair, was it?" Sherman quipped, prompting laughter and inaudible response;
- A second hair found at the crime scene was determined to be "microscopically similar" to hair found in Littleton's hairbrush, but there were also dissimilar characteristics, according to the testimony of another expert. Elaine Pagliaro, who worked under Lee as assistant director of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory, told jurors that the test alone could no be used to conclusively link or exclude Littleton to the crime scene;
- Mildred Ix of Greenwich, who still lives on the street in Belle Haven where Martha lived and died, testified that her dog "Zocks" barked at Michael Skakel but not Thomas Skakel when the brothers showed up at the Ix home to visit other teenagers after Martha's funeral.
The testimony about the analysis of Littleton's hair seems to have closed a chapter of the trial that was at once was bizarre and interesting. It took several days, but jurors listened to numerous hours of testimony about a 1991 scheme by investigators to get Littleton to incriminate himself in the crime. They did that by asking his ex-wife, Mary Baker, to tell Littleton that he admitted to stabbing Martha through the neck "because she would not die."
Littleton made no such statements, Baker told the jury, and he denied it repeatedly during a long conversation the two had in a Boston motel room in 1992. Investigators listened to the conversation in another room.
During seven days of testimony, the prosecution has called 19 witnesses before the jury and two others at a hearing concerning the investigation of Littleton. Jurors are expected to hear testimony about incriminating statements the defendant allegedly made to other students at Maine's Elan School beginning sometime this week.
If convicted, Skakel faces life in prison.