Prosecution witness sticks with her story
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- Andrea Shakespeare Renna was one of the prosecution's most compelling witnesses in their case against Michael Skakel -- until yesterday.
The childhood friend of Julie Skakel's testified May 9 in state Superior Court that Michael Skakel never took a trip to his cousin's backcountry Greenwich home on the night Martha Moxley was murdered.
More than any other prosecution witness, Renna's testimony cast doubt on Skakel's claim that he was not in the neighborhood when the murder likely occurred.
Yesterday, however, Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, called Renna back to the stand as his own witness and called into question the Hanson, Mass., resident's recollection that Skakel stayed behind in Belle Haven while his brothers drove cousin James Terrien Dowdle home at about 9:30 p.m.
Skakel, 41, is accused of bludgeoning his neighbor to death with a golf club in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Greenwich in 1975. Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time.
"Do you remember right now whether Michael Skakel went to the Terrien home with his brothers, Rush Jr., John, and cousin Jimmy Terrien?," Sherman asked.
"He did not," Renna replied.
"How do you know that Mr. Skakel did not go to the Terriens?" Sherman asked.
"I remember that he did not go," Renna replied.
Rushton Skakel Jr. and James Terrien Dowdle have testified that Michael Skakel accompanied them on a trip to Dowdle's home to watch the 10 p.m. show, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."
During a 1991 taped interview with Detective Frank Garr and Inspector Jack Solomon, however, Renna was far less confident of Skakel's movements.
"For some reason, I don't know who told me, I don't know if . . . I've heard it through the years, or I don't know if I remember it . . . I never thought that Michael made the trip to the Terriens," Renna said during the interview. "I thought it was the three boys. Did I ever see him (Michael Skakel) in the house? No. Did I see him leave. No."
Renna said she "thought (she) remembered hearing stories" that Thomas Skakel, Michael Skakel, Helen Ix and Martha Moxley were hanging out in the back yard "chit-chatting" after the car left.
Though she never saw Skakel "with my own two eyes" after the car left, Renna explained in 1991 that it was her "total assumption" from the stories she had heard.
"I've always heard that, through 15 years, every time anyone's ever talked about what happened that night," she told the investigators.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill asked Renna to explain how her memory of that night came to evolve since 1991.
The 1991 interview was long, conducted early in the morning and Renna was distracted by her three young children at the time, she said.
In addition, it was the first time in 15 years anyone had asked her specific questions about Michael Skakel's activities that night, she said.
Other investigators had asked her about Thomas Skakel, she said, but never Michael Skakel.
Since no one ever asked about Michael Skakel, nothing ever "fixed" her memories of him in place, she said.
Her belief that Skakel remained at the home also may have come from a story she heard from him the next day, she said.
"Michael told us that Martha had been killed and that he and Tommy were the last to see her that night," Renna recalled.
Renna has since had time to think more about the investigators' questions, she said, and stands by her belief Skakel remained in the home.
"Do you have an abiding conviction that Michael was at the house after the car left?" Gill asked.
"Yes," Renna replied.
But Sherman questioned how Renna could be so certain of Skakel's presence if she never saw him.
"Where did you see Michael after the car left?" Sherman asked.
"I did not see Michael after the Terrien car left," she replied.
After court, Sherman poked fun at Gill's question about an "abiding conviction."
"It's going to be the only conviction in this case," he said.
Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. adjourned court early yesterday. Testimony will resume Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Sherman's first witness of the day was a former student of the Elan School, Angela McFillin. The 39-year-old Baltimore resident called into question deceased witness Gregory Coleman's earlier testimony.
Coleman testified that after being returned to the school following his escape, Skakel was forced to sit on a stage in the school's dining room for several days.
Coleman, who said it was his job to watch Skakel, claimed Skakel was given special privileges such as being allowed to have his stereo with him on the stage.
But McFillin said her recollection was that Skakel was forced to sit in a chair facing the corner and did not have a stereo on the stage.
McFillin also testified about John Higgins -- the only other former student of the Poland Spring, Maine, school who testified that Skakel confessed.
McFillin said protocol would have called for Higgins to immediately report any such confession to school officials, which he did not.
Higgins would likely have done just that, since he was eager to earn "brownie points" with school officials, she said.