Elusive Thomas Skakel shows up to support brother
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
NORWALK -- Jurors in the murder trial of Michael Skakel have heard a great deal about his older brother, Thomas Skakel.
They learned Greenwich police considered him a prime suspect in Martha Moxley's murder from the day her body was found and that he was nearly arrested for the crime in 1976.
They learned from Moxley's diary and friends that the vivacious 15-year-old flirted with her 17-year-old neighbor, engaging in "horseplay" with him on the night she was killed.
They held in their hands one of Moxley's own leather boat shoes with "Tom" penned on the side of the sole.
And they learned Michael Skakel later told people he didn't know whether he killed Moxley, or whether his brother did.
The one thing the jury never heard, however, was what Thomas Skakel had to say.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense called the Stockbridge, Mass., resident as a witness. And unlike his other six siblings, he's never attended the trial to support his brother.
Murmurs of recognition filled the crowded courtroom yesterday morning as spectators watched Thomas Skakel walk down the right aisle of the courtroom and take his seat in the front row behind the defense table.
Before yesterday, all the jury had seen of Thomas Skakel was a pair of family photographs taken on Nantucket in 1977 showing the clan gathered on a beach staircase and a sailboat.
The shaggy hair of his youth long gone, the 43-year-old Skakel yesterday looked almost professorial in his stylish spectacles, tweed sport coat, tie and khakis.
He declined repeated requests for interviews.
"I'm going to make a statement at the appropriate time," he said politely to reporters dogging him in the courtroom hallway on his way to the water fountain.
During a break at about 11 a.m., he and family friends strode across the street to Dunkin' Donuts and returned with coffee, cameras following their every move.
Though he declined to comment for the media, Skakel's long-time attorney, Emanuel Margolis, spoke for him.
"He's here to say, 'I'm your brother and I'm here to support you,' " Margolis said during a break. "I also told him that there was a possibility that we'd get a verdict today."
Those hopes were dashed early in the day as the jury asked the court reporter to read back testimony from six witnesses, a process that took the rest of the day and is expected to run well into today.
As reporters surrounded Margolis, it became clear their questions far outnumbered the answers he would give.
"Manny, why did Tommy lie to police?" asked Newsday reporter Leonard Levitt, whose 1991 story in The Advocate and Greenwich Time helped refocus attention on the dormant case.
Levitt was referring Skakel's first statement to police that he said good-bye to Moxley at 9:30 p.m. and went up to his room to write a report about Abraham Lincoln. Police learned no one at his school had assigned such a paper.
"Len, go home," Margolis shot back. "I'm not going to respond to that. What he said to police in the course of a five-hour interview -- it ain't fun."
The terse exchange underscored the frustration many reporters felt that Skakel is a central figure in the case but has never discussed it publicly.
"This have been a terrible time for him. He's been living under enormous pressure and tension this whole time," Margolis said. "(But) his emotional state is such that he can handle" attending court.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, when asked whether he placed any significance on Skakel's appearance yesterday, said, "I think he was told to be here."
Michael Skakel's six siblings have spent varying amounts of time at his trial, from youngest brother Stephen's attending virtually the entire case to Thomas' attending only yesterday.
"Stephen's much more thick-skinned," Margolis said. "Tommy is brittler."
Though he attended to express his "solidarity with his brother and his siblings," Thomas Skakel is unlikely return to the trial and plans to head home to his family in Massachusetts, Margolis said.
Margolis declined to answer questions regarding how his client feels about his brother's past statements casting suspicion on him.
In addition to the statements Michael Skakel made that he didn't know whether he or his brother committed the crime, another witness, Michael Meredith, said Skakel implicated his older brother.
Meredith testified that in 1987, Skakel explained that after returning to his Greenwich neighborhood from his cousin's home on the night Moxley was killed, he masturbated in a tree outside her window. Meredith said Skakel claimed he saw his brother Thomas crossing the Moxley yard while he was in the tree.
Though he declined to discuss his client's feelings about such statements, Margolis tried to describe their relationship.
"I couldn't call them buddy-buddy," he said.
Other witnesses have testified that Thomas and Michael Skakel had an "adversarial" relationship and that Thomas was Michael's "nemesis."
That relationship is part of the prosecution's theory that Michael Skakel had a crush on Moxley, and he became enraged when she rejected his advances in favor of his brother's.
One Elan student testified that Michael Skakel complained that his brother "stole his girlfriend."
The jury had not heard evidence from an investigator's report that Thomas Skakel later changed his story about that night, claiming to have had a sexual encounter with Moxley outside at about 10 p.m.
Margolis, however, reminded reporters that his client was not on trial.
"The case is the state of Connecticut versus Michael Skakel. Why don't you focus on that," he said to a group of reporters.
But Thomas Skakel's name came up several times yesterday as the jury reheard sister Julie Skakel's testimony. He smiled when an exchange between his sister and prosecutor Jonathan Benedict was reread.
"Did your brother Michael have a turbulent relationship with his father?" Benedict asked.
"We all did," Julie responded.
"Did Michael have a turbulent relationship with Tommy?" Benedict asked.
"We all did," she replied again.
But Thomas Skakel, who was 17 in 1975, was more solemn as Benedict noted that one or both of her brothers had been suspects since Moxley was killed. And he kept his head lowered as his sister described seeing him say goodnight to Moxley the night she was killed.
Others showed up to support Skakel on the second day of the jury's deliberations.
Longtime friend Will Vinci went to court, giving Skakel a big hug outside the courthouse while the jury deliberated inside.
Vinci, a 48-year-old New Canaan native, met Skakel more than 10 years ago on the speed skiing circuit in Europe. The two discovered they had friends in common and have been close ever since.
Skakel is nothing like the violent "animal" he is being portrayed by the prosecution and the media, Vinci said.
He is a kind, deeply religious man and devoted father, Vinci said.
Skakel shunned the party atmosphere surrounding the European races, instead opting to go to church and attend AA meetings, Vinci said.
The first thing Skakel would unpack when the two roomed together at several races was his picture of Jesus Christ, Vinci said. At one time Skakel was among the top 100 speed skiers in the world, the friend said.
Vinci said Skakel is holding up as best he can while awaiting the jury's verdict. The murder suspect carries around a picture of his young son to comfort him, Vinci said.
"I can't believe how strong he is. He's actually calming us down. He says, 'It's in God's hands,' " Vinci said.
-- Staff Writers James O'Keefe and Lindsay Faber and The Associated Press contributed to this story.