It's in the jury's hands
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- For one final moment, a smiling photograph of a blonde and dimpled Martha Moxley hung overhead before a packed courtroom yesterday, as lawyers for both sides delivered 90-minute closing arguments in the state's 27-year-old murder case against Michael Skakel.
As quickly as Moxley's 15-year-old life was snuffed out in 1975, that photograph faded yesterday into a grisly image of Moxley's mangled body, found on Halloween in 1975 on Walsh Lane, the peaceful Belle Haven block her family had grown to enjoy.
Deliberations begin today, as a jury weighs the fate of Skakel, 41, who is on trial for killing Moxley, the young girl who lived across the street upon whom he had a crush. The murder weapon, a Toney Penna golf club, has been traced to the Skakel home.
In his impassioned argument yesterday in state Superior court in Norwalk, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said Skakel had "dug himself a hole" by talking agitatedly about the crime the day after it happened, actually placing himself at the crime scene later and confessing to at least a dozen people in the years since the murder.
Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, argued that the state's case raised more questions than it answered, and that there is too much doubt to support a conviction.
Benedict said Skakel's recollection was most truthful in what he said to several confession witnesses over the years.
"What he recalls is what he said to Andrea Renna, Matt Tucciarone, Larry Zicarelli, Dorothy Rogers, Greg Coleman, John Higgins, Alice Dunn, even his own father, and what he said to them is that he murdered Martha Moxley beyond every reasonable doubt."
Benedict largely focused on Skakel's alibi, that he went to his cousin's house in the backcountry and returned home around 11:15 p.m. At that point, Skakel has said he went back out because he wanted to see Moxley and he ended up masturbating in a tree. Some testimony has indicated the time of Moxley's death to be close to 10 p.m., when several neighborhood dogs were heard barking loudly.
Sherman began his closing argument matter-of-factly.
"He didn't do it. He doesn't know who did. He wasn't there when the crime was committed and he never confessed," Sherman said. "That's the whole case."
Sherman, who apologized to the jury for occasionally making jokes throughout the trial, said it is curious that blood-stained clothing has never been found.
Benedict argued that Skakel invented the masturbation story to account for any semen that may have been found at Moxley's crime scene. Medical examiners found no indication of sexual assault, but bloody fingerprints stained Moxley's inner thighs, and experts have testified that a complete test for semen was not conducted on all parts of Moxley's body.
Another problem with Skakel's alibi, Benedict said, is that he has inadvertently referred to three different trees during his discussions of the night.
In a 1997 taped transcript of Skakel's conversation with an author he approached with a book proposal, Skakel said he climbed a tree by the room of Moxley's brother, John, by mistake. That tree, the prosecution argued, could not be climbed by a human, nor would another tree Skakel once referred to on the side of the house.
"He had masturbated, not in that cedar tree by John Moxley's room and not in (another) tree that's on the side of the house, but rather in the vicinity of Martha Moxley's body," Benedict said. "And not knowing what traces may have been recovered from her body and, of course, the crime scene investigation or from her clothing or exactly who he may have related this horrible tale to, particularly in his years at Elan, he needed some kind of an explanation."
Benedict told the jury Skakel masturbated on or near Moxley's body after he killed her, calling it the "ultimate and sickest of humiliations."
The golf club was another focus of Benedict's argument, when he said the missing handle of the club would have significance only to a Skakel, since the label on the handle bore the name of Skakel's deceased mother.
"The significance of the golf club, again, is not what is there, but what isn't there," Benedict told the jury. "The murderer made sure to hide forever that part of the club that said where it came from."
In the tapes, played aloud again yesterday before the courtroom in Skakel's own voice, Skakel told of being under a street light, hearing sounds and throwing rocks at a dark area on the Moxley property.
"He has himself under a street light throwing rocks and yelling into that circle with the exact same motion it had to have been used to beat Martha to death," Benedict told the jury as he slammed a golf club on a table several times, mimicking the beating motions.
Benedict zeroed in on a portion of the tape in which Skakel says he went to bed with the worry of someone having seen him masturbating on the Moxley property that night, and woke up in a panic when Dorthy Moxley appeared at his door.
"Is that the Freudian slip of all ages?" Benedict asked the jury. "What could he be worried about going to bed with other than a piece of a golf club, a memento from his victim, and awakening to Dorthy Moxley, feeling panicked that someone saw him last night? How could the sight of Dorthy Moxley possibly produce a feeling of panic in an innocent person?"
The state has to prove the murder occurred between 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 and 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 31. The state argued yesterday that the murder could have happened close to 10 p.m., when several neighborhood dogs were heard barking violently, or the murder could have happened when Skakel said he went back outside, closer to 11:30 p.m.
Skakel maintains he got into a car at about 9:30 p.m. and went to his cousin James Dowdle's home, until about 11:15 p.m., and then returned to Belle Haven. His brothers and cousin have either corroborated his alibi or said they cannot recall details of that night.
Julie Skakel's friend, Andrea Shakespeare Renna who was at the Skakel home that night, testified she believed Skakel never went to his cousin's home that night. She said she left the Skakel home just after 9:30 p.m., after the Dowdle car had left the Skakel home and headed toward the backcountry to watch Monty Python's "Flying Circus."
But yesterday the state played another part of the tapes, in which Skakel said that he realized at some point that night that his sister's friend Andrea Shakespeare had gone home for the night.
"If you recall the credible testimony in this trial, the Monty Python tour had already departed when Julie and Andrea had stepped out of the house to take Andrea home," Benedict said. "Somebody who had actually left already would have had no idea of Julie's trip to take Andrea home."
In his closing argument, Sherman reminded the jury of past suspects in the case.
Sherman said that the Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton's hairs were microscopically similar to ones found on the sheet used to wrap Moxley's body at the crime scene.
"I am not here to persuade you that Ken Littleton committed this crime," Sherman said. "The state sure spent a lot of time trying to convince you he didn't. I mean, we went three days without hearing anything about Michael Skakel in this case."
Sherman also argued that Littleton made incriminating statements in conversations with his ex-wife, Mary Baker.
"Were Ken Littleton's confessions any less compelling, any less persuasive?" Sherman asked.
Littleton was a former suspect in the case, along with Skakel's brother Thomas.
"This is investigative musical chairs, and unfortunately for Michael Skakel, when the music stopped, he got caught in that chair over there," Sherman said, pointing to the defendant's seat. "But he wasn't the only one that they were investigating, obviously."
Sherman also accused several of the state's witnesses of suffering from "I Love Lucy syndrome," meaning that they came forward because they wanted to be part of the "act."
Sherman also said that Renna's testimony was compromised because she admitted that she never saw Skakel at the home after the Dowdle car had left, and she could not explain how she believed he was still at home.
"She tried to waffle it because she said she had the impression he was there," Sherman said, also adding that Renna's statements came out of her reading of Mark Fuhrman's book, "Murder in Greenwich," which claims Skakel is the killer.
Sherman also said Skakel's alleged confessions at the Elan School were beaten out of him in a boxing ring used by the school to force students to confront their problems.
"Every time he said he didn't do it, he was put into the boxing ring," Sherman said.
At any mention of abuse at the Elan School, Skakel put his face in his hands, his only emotional reaction.
Benedict had argued in his closing statement the only way Elan staffers could have known about Skakel's alleged involvement in the murder was through the Skakel family itself, since Skakel did not emerge as a suspect until the mid-1990s.
Finally, the defense argued that there was no physical evidence or forensic evidence linking Skakel to the crime.
Sherman said whoever murdered Moxley should "rot in hell."
"They were somebody who was insane and nasty and mean-spirited and none of that has been described as Michael Skakel," Sherman said.
He also pointed to the Greenwich Police Department's failed arrest warrant application for Thomas Skakel, which was turned down by the state's attorney's office in 1976.
"They said 'no, it's not enough,' " Sherman said of the state's attorney's office. "Well now it's your turn. They are coming to you now with something. And it's your turn to say it's not enough."
Skakel is a first cousin of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who attended the trial for three hours yesterday. Kennedy would not comment.