Witness says Skakel confessed
By Lindsay Faber - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- Michael Skakel sobbed as he made a two-hour confession to the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley while at a behavioral school in Maine in 1978, a former classmate of Skakel's testified yesterday.
Skakel, 41, is on trial for the murder of Moxley, who was beaten to death with a golf club linked to the Skakel family. She was discovered dead in her yard on Halloween. Moxley and Skakel, both 15 at the time of the murder, were friends and neighbors in Belle Haven.
John Higgins, of Lisle, Ill., was one of three former classmates from the Elan School, based in Poland Spring, Maine, to testify yesterday against Skakel in state Superior Court in Norwalk, but the only one to say Skakel actually confessed. Higgins said the conversation occurred while the two were sitting on a porch doing night duty at Elan.
"There was a party of some kind or another, and he related that he later was in his garage and he was going through some golf clubs, and he related that he was running through some woods, he had a golf club in his hands, he looked up, he saw pine trees. The next thing that he remembers is that he woke up in his house, and that's the story he related to me," Higgins said yesterday.
Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano asked, "And during this conversation, did you discuss in addition to those facts how he might have been involved in this crime?"
"Yeah, through a progression of statements he said that he didn't know whether he did it, he said that he may have done it, he didn't know what happened, eventually he came to the point that he did do it, he must have done it; I did it," Higgins answered.
Skakel's former classmate called his tearful confession "an extremely emotional thing" that took two hours to emerge in its totality.
Skakel's defense attorney Michael Sherman harped on the idea that the Skakels did not have a garage. They had a shed where they did not keep cars, Sherman said.
Sherman also said that yesterday's testimony was the best the state could offer. He called it the "zenith" of the case against his client.
Higgins, who was reluctant to get involved in the case, did not go to police himself. Former Elan classmate Charles Seigan, who also testified, gave investigators Higgins' name. Higgins told Sherman during cross-examination that he repeatedly lied to State Inspector Frank Garr in the mid-1990s and gave him little information because he wanted to protect himself from involvement in the case.
Finally, he said, he agreed to testify after talking to Dorthy Moxley, Martha's mother. Dorthy Moxley embraced Higgins after his testimony and thanked him.
"I know this was so hard for you, John, but it was the right thing to do," she told him, midway through a hug. "I really think we've got a good chance now."
The jury also heard from Charles Seigan and Dorothy Rogers, two other Elan schoolmates, and Larry Zicarelli, a former Skakel family driver.
Seigan painted a harrowing picture of the reform school that included physical and verbal beatings as well as "primal scream" sessions. Students at the school repeatedly murmured about Skakel's involvement in a Greenwich murder after program director Joseph Ricci "blurted out" at a general meeting that Skakel could have killed someone, Seigan said.
After that incident, the topic came up two to three other times at smaller group meetings, Seigan said. When asked about it, Skakel allegedly told the group that he was drunk, stumbling and in a blackout that night.
"He would cry and shake his head, and he said he didn't know if he did it," Seigan said. "Other times he would get annoyed."
Seigan said Skakel never admitted or denied killing Moxley.
Ricci apparently informed about 90 people of Skakel's involvement in a murder at a "general meeting," where Skakel was called in and confronted publicly about why he ran away from the school.
At such meetings, the "victim" would stand outside the room and the other students would clap, stomp their feet and scream at the student when he walked into the room, Seigan said.
The session was termed a "sacrifice to the gods of therapy," Seigan said. "The structure of the house was to verbally reprimand someone."
Rogers told the jury about a conversation she had with Skakel at an Elan school dance, where she approached him because they were both from Greenwich.
"He said some things that kind of scared me," said Rogers, who is serving prison time in North Carolina for a series of misdemeanors. "Just that he had been drinking the night she was murdered and couldn't remember what he did."
Rogers said Skakel added that his family was scared he might have committed the murder and sent him to Elan to shield him from the police.
Rogers, who was arrested and charged with attempting to burn down her parents' Greenwich home around 1980, said she went to Greenwich police with the information about Skakel after she got out of Elan in 1980.
That point raised questions about why Greenwich police continued to focus on Thomas Skakel, Michael's older brother and the last person known to have seen Moxley alive.
In an attempt to answer that question, former detective Richard Haug testified for the state and confirmed that he compiled a memo detailing Rogers' information about Skakel and passed it on to the captain of detectives.
But by all accounts, Michael Skakel was still not investigated as a suspect. His older brother Thomas was being pursued at the time because police believed Michael Skakel had a sufficient alibi.
"When I came upon that information in 1991, I started to pursue it," Inspector Frank Garr said. "That report was in the reams of paperwork but it stood alone. What happened right after it was sent to the captain, I have no idea."
Zicarelli, the limousine driver, testified that in 1977, Skakel cried on a car trip to a doctor's office in New York City.
"When we got into New York, he said to me he was very sorry, but he had done something very bad and he had to either kill himself or get out of the country," Zicarelli said.
Skakel then jumped out of the moving car, and Zicarelli went to Rushton Skakel Sr.'s Manhattan office. Rushton Skakel Sr. told Zicarelli to have some lunch and then to look for Michael at the doctor's office, the former driver said.
Instead, Zicarelli went directly to the doctor's office, where he found Skakel on the sidewalk and invited him to have lunch. Skakel ordered only a double scotch on the rocks, Zicarelli said.
On the trip back to Greenwich, Zicarelli said, the car stopped in traffic on the Triborough Bridge and Skakel again jumped out of the car and ran to the side of the bridge. Zicarelli said he twice had to pull Skakel off the bridge and into the car.
Zicarelli said he asked Skakel what was wrong after he had quieted down.
"He said if I knew what he had done, I would never talk to him again," Zicarelli said.
Sherman told the jury that Skakel was upset not because he had murdered Moxley but because he had slept in his dead mother's dress the night before.
He later told reporters that Skakel had slept with the dress, not in it.
Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. also ruled yesterday that prosecutors could present written testimony from former Elan student Gregory Coleman, who died of a drug overdose last year.
Coleman told a grand jury that Skakel confessed to the murder, but Coleman later admitted to being high on heroin when he testified.
Nevertheless, Coleman stood by his remark that Skakel said, "I'm gonna get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."
Skakel is a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.