Prosecution rests its case against Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel
By John Springer - Court TV (6PM Update)
NORWALK, Conn. — Prosecutors rested their case against Michael Skakel Tuesday after jurors heard a tape recording in which the Kennedy cousin told a book writer that he climbed a tree outside Martha Moxley's home on the night of her murder and masturbated.
On the tape, Skakel does not confess to killing his 15-year-old neighbor, but does say he feared that people would suspect he did it if they knew he had climbed the tree in her yard.
Skakel, now 41, faces life in prison if convicted of killing Martha with a golf club at her family's estate in Greenwich, Conn., on Oct. 30, 1975. The defense is expected to call its first witness Wednesday morning.
A tape recording of the writer's 1997 interview with Skakel — made in anticipation of a book that was to be entitled "Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean" — was played for jurors at the end of the prosecution's case Tuesday.
Skakel met with Hoffman, the prosecution's 34th and final witness, for three days in February 1997 for interviews for the book proposal. Skakel's lawyer, Mickey Sherman, decided in 1998 not to allow his client to cooperate with the tell-all book. It was never published.
Prosecutors contend that Michael Skakel killed Martha because he was jealous of his older brother's relationship with her. During the taped interviews, Skakel told Hoffman that his brother, Thomas, was his "nemesis" growing up. He also said that he had told his tutor, Kenneth Littleton, that he liked Martha.
"'Martha's hot,'" Skakel said he told the tutor. "'She's a shmoke. She's really cute.'"
On the night she was killed, Skakel said Martha was talking with his brother, Thomas, and several other neighborhood children in the Skakel's backyard. That was the last time he saw her alive, he told Hoffman.
Skakel said that that he and two of his brothers left their exclusive Belle Haven at about 8:15 p.m. to go to his cousin's house across town. Skakel said the group watched the TV premiere of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," smoked pot and drank alcohol.
Skakel claimed that he invited Martha Moxley to go along but that she said her mother gave her a 9 p.m. curfew. Martha, according to Skakel, agreed to accompany him the following night to throw eggs at the security booth at the entrance at Belle Haven.
Skakel explained that for him and his brothers the night before Halloween, which was known has "Mischief Night" in Greenwich, was the "best holiday of the year." He said that he had been looking forward to it for weeks and was armed to the teeth with smoke bombs, shaving cream and other items.
Skakel did not indicate what time he got home later that night but said that when he arrived, the Skakel home was dark and a TV was on in the master bedroom but no one was there.
"I couldn't sleep, part of me just wanted to go to sleep, part of me just got horny," Skakel told Hoffman. He told him he remembered a woman living down the street whom he sometimes spied on and "snuck out" the door. Skakel said he first stopped by neighbor Helen Ix's home and was surprised that her dog, whom jurors know from earlier testimony as "Zocks," did not bark at him.
Outside the home of the woman Skakel liked to spy on, he said he tried to masturbate but could not get an erection because he was drunk. He said he had a thought: "'Martha likes me. I'll go get a kiss from Martha.'" Skakel said he ran to the Moxley home and climbed a huge tree near the front door and began yelling Martha's name and throwing rocks or sticks at a window. Skakel said he then sat in the tree for about 30 seconds and masturbated.
He said he then climbed down from the tree and cut through Martha's oval shaped driveway on his way to the Skakel home next door. Prosecutors believe Martha was murdered near the driveway.
Skakel said on the 25-minute tape that "'something in me said 'Don't go in the dark over there.'" On the following morning, Dorthy Moxley, Martha's mother, knocked on the door and asked him if he had seen Martha. Skakel said he was overcome by a sense of panic. "Oh God, if I tell anybody I was out that night, they're going to say I did it," he said he thought.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Sherman asked Hoffman, "Did Michael Skakel ever tell you he murdered Martha Moxley?" Hoffman replied that he heard no confession.
Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict rested the state's case in such a soft tone that most people in the packed courtroom did not hear it. Benedict declined to comment about the strength of the state's evidence, which hinges largely on statements Skakel allegedly made to fellow residents at a Maine treatment center for troubled youths in 1978.
Outside the courthouse, Dorthy Moxley told reporters that she was pleased with the prosecution's case. "I still think we have a great case. I really do think that when Mr. Benedict gives his summation he is going to tie things together," Moxley said.
The defense is expected to focus on Skakel's alibi that he was at his cousin's house after 8:15 p.m. However, the time given by Skakel does not square with the timeline offered by several prosecution witnesses.
Most witnesses said that the car carrying members of the Skakel family left the home about 9:30 p.m. At that time, Thomas Skakel, the defendant's brother, was flirting and playing with Martha. Thomas Skakel, once a suspect in the case, was the last to see Martha alive.