Family backs Skakel alibi Cousin and brothers take stand in trial
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- Michael Skakel's attorney spent the first day of the defense's case patching up his client's alibi, calling Skakel's older brother and cousin to testify that the defendant was not in Belle Haven for nearly two hours on the night Martha Moxley was killed there.
Rushton Skakel Jr., 46, of Bogota, Colombia, and his cousin James Dowdle, 44, of the Bahamas, both testified yesterday that Michael Skakel accompanied them in a car to Dowdle's home in backcountry Greenwich at about 9:30 on the night of the killing.
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, said during his opening argument that Skakel was not in the neighborhood at the time of Moxley's death. That claim came under fire during the prosecution's case when a Skakel family friend, Andrea Shakespeare Renna, said Skakel never made the trip.
Now 41, Skakel is charged with killing Moxley with a six-iron when they were both 15.
Dowdle, who once went by the surname Terrien, testified that after returning from dinner with the Skakels at the Belle Haven Club, he, Rushton Skakel Jr., John Skakel and Michael Skakel piled into the family's Lincoln at about 9:30 p.m.
They drove to Dowdle's home, an estate called Sursum Corda several miles from Belle Haven, and watched an episode of the television show "Monty Python's Flying Circus," he said.
The show began at about 10 p.m., lasted half an hour, and the Skakel boys left a short time after the show ended, Dowdle said.
Dowdle, who was 17 at the time of the killing, said he is now a resident of the Bahamian island of Abaco, where, according to Sherman, he runs a charter fishing boat.
Sporting a deep tan and speaking in a soft, gravelly voice, Dowdle calmly recounted Michael Skakel's visit to his home that night.
During cross-examination by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, however, Dowdle said other parts of that evening were less clear to him.
He could not recall specifics about who was at dinner, who was drinking, how much they were drinking or anything about the car before they got in it.
"It happened so long ago, I just can't remember those kind of details," Dowdle said.
Benedict did highlight several inconsistencies between Dowdle's testimony and that of other witnesses. Dowdle said he believed Michael Skakel was part of the group of boys as they walked from the house to the Lincoln in the driveway.
Several other witnesses put Michael Skakel in the Lincoln with Martha before the older boys came out of the house and commandeered the car for the drive north.
Family tutor Kenneth Littleton has testified that after the murder, he drove Michael and Tommy Skakel and Dowdle to the family's second home in Windham, N.Y.
"I don't believe I went up to that ski house," Dowdle said.
He also said he had no recollection of Rushton Skakel Jr. being so drunk that night that he could not drive home. Michael Skakel said during a taped interview with his ghostwriter, Richard Hoffman, that Rushton Skakel Jr. was too "hammered" to drive home that night and brother John was forced to take over.
Despite these inconsistencies, Dowdle never wavered from his basic testimony that Skakel accompanied them on the trip.
As Dowdle strode from the witness box, Skakel rose and turned to greet his cousin. Dowdle approached the defense table, turned his back to Skakel and walked up the aisle.
Rushton Skakel Jr. gave a similar account of the trip, but was unable to recall other incidents important to the case.
He explained that he was 19 and a student at Dartmouth College at the time of the murder. He had only stopped in Greenwich for one night on his way to a homecoming game at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he said.
He had seen a Monty Python movie while at Dartmouth, he said, and was excited about seeing the television episode, he said.
"It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen," he said.
The group drove to Dowdle's house, watched the show, and returned home at about 11:15 p.m., after which he did not see Michael again that night, he said.
During cross-examination by Benedict, Rushton Skakel Jr. said he had no recollection of dinner, drinking, other details of that evening or any "commotion" in the neighborhood after Moxley's body was found.
While Benedict seemed to accept Skakel's lack of recollection on several issues, he seemed less able to believe the Dartmouth graduate could not recall being interviewed by police on several occasions after the murder.
At one point winking at his brother as he testified, Rushton Skakel Jr. told Benedict he did not recall returning from Hanover, N.H., to Greenwich several days after the murder to be interviewed by police. Nor did he recall another occasion two weeks after the murder when the entire Skakel family went to the Greenwich Police Department to give statements, he said.
Similarly, he could not recall telling police in 1976 that Michael was "going nuts and being obnoxious" the day after the murder, he said.
Outside the courthouse, the victim's brother said he thought the witnesses' hazy memories were convenient.
"What they specifically recall is their part of the alibi and nothing else," John Moxley said. "It's bad acting. Over the years, these guys are forgetting their lines."
Another Skakel brother, David, testified that he heard the Ix family's dog, Zock, barking "incessantly" around 10 p.m.
"It was distressed and it was prolonged barking," said David Skakel, a recycling coordinator in Mosier, Ore., who was 11 on the night of the murder.
That testimony bolsters Helen Ix Fitzpatrick's claim that Zock barked for an unusually long period of time in the direction of the Moxley house at about 10 p.m. that night.
Sherman has focused on testimony about the barking dog to try to establish 10 p.m. as the likely time of the murder.
The defense case is scheduled to last about one week, Sherman said.