Prosecution witness said she heard
defendant joke at a party about killing
By John Springer - Court TV
NORWALK, Conn. — A prosecution witness testified Tuesday that Michael Skakel joked at a party in Boston in 1997 about the murder of Martha Moxley, but the witness admitted that she lied when she told a friend in a secretly record conversation that she heard a full-blown confession.
Gerrane Ridge, a 34-year-old part-time model who works at her family's banquet hall, told jurors hearing evidence at the Kennedy cousin's murder trial that she overheard Skakel encouraging others to ask him about the case.
"I walked into the room. I heard him saying, in jest, 'Ask me why I killed my neighbor.'"
The phrase is very similar to one written on a sign Skakel was forced to wear around his neck as punishment while a resident of Elan, the controversial Maine residential treatment center where witnesses say Skakel confessed to the crime in 1978.
Jurors have already heard all of the statements Skakel allegedly made at Elan. Prosecutors, who have so far called more than 30 witnesses, are presenting evidence of more recent statements Skakel made about the Oct. 30, 1975, beating death of his 15-year-old neighbor in Greenwich, Conn.
Ridge testified that she had not even been introduced to Skakel when he made the statement she told jurors about. She said it came during a party in the spring of 1997 that was also attended by a daughter of the rock star "Meatloaf." Ridge said that Skakel was there at the invitation of Marisa Verochi, the former babysitter at the center of the sex scandal that Skakel's cousin, Michael Kennedy, was involved in before he was killed in a skiing accident in 1997.
When Ridge denied that Skakel went on to discuss the murder of Martha Moxley in detail, prosecutor Jonathan Benedict tried to impeach his own witness with a February tape recording. Ridge can be heard telling friend Matthew Attanian on the tape, which he recorded without her knowledge, that she had met with a Connecticut investigator and withheld information.
Ridge told Attanian, according to the tape and a transcript entered into evidence, that she did not tell prosecution investigator Frank Garr that Skakel claimed he was on LSD on the night of the murder and killed Martha because she had had sex with his brother, Thomas Skakel. She referred to Garr as a "tough son of a bitch" who vowed that he would work another year if he had to in order to solve the Moxley case.
Ridge testified on cross-examination that everything she told Attanian she made up in order to "get him off my back." She said Attanian was constantly pestering her for details about Skakel, whom she had never seen before nor since.
"Why did you tell Matt Attanian that stuff?" defense lawyer Mickey Sherman asked.
"Because he was so inquisitive about the case. He wouldn't let it die," Ridge said. "So to get him off my back and to appear I was more knowledgeable than I was, I told him that stuff."
Ridge testified that she gleaned details about the crime from reading national tabloid magazines and basically repeated them to Attanian.
Ridge admitted that she also lied to Garr when she told him in a taped telephone call in February that she did not hear Skakel say anything at the 1997 party. "I really don't know anything. I wish I could help you," Ridge can be heard saying on the tape that jurors heard. "I really don't know anything. I really wasn't privy to the conversation."
The witness, the prosecution's 33rd during 11 days of testimony so far, insisted that she heard Skakel say only, "Ask me why I killed my neighbor."
Benedict stressed that Ridge, who sipped water nervously between answers, was not happy to be dragged into a major trial. He is expected to argue to jurors during closing arguments — perhaps as early as next week — that Ridge lied to Garr but was not lying to Attanian.
Attanian and Verochi are on both the prosecution and defense lists of prospective witnesses. It is not known, however, if either will be called to testify.
The prosecution is expected to rest its case sometime this week.
In other developments Tuesday, Judge John Kavanewsky denied a prosecution request to recall witness Andrew Pugh. Prosecutor Chris Morano argued unsuccessfully that Pugh should be allowed to tell jurors that Skakel mouthed expletives and the word "liar" when Pugh was on the stand Monday. Morano said Pugh felt intimidated but would not testify differently.
Pugh told jurors that Skakel told him in 1991 that he did not kill Martha but climbed a tree near the crime scene that night and masturbated. Skakel's lawyer denied that Skakel mouthed anything to Pugh and Kavanewsky said he did not notice anything.
"Baloney. It's baloney, your honor," Sherman said. Kavanewsky also ruled Tuesday that crime scene and autopsy photos shown to jurors early in the trial cannot be released to the media.