"Lawyer Denies Kennedy Pressure;
Says Family Not Pushing For Skakel Deal."
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time (Revised)

The unsolved 1975 Martha Moxley murder has long been fodder for the press, containing such necessary ingredients for titillating copy as wealthy suspects who are related to one of the nation's most prominent political families - the Kennedys.

But the defense lawyer for Moxley murder defendant Michael Skakel yesterday said he did not know where syndicated gossip columnist Liz Smith got wind of a rumor that Kennedy family members were trying to pressure Skakel into making a plea bargain "to make the entire ugly mess in Greenwich, Conn., go away."

The lawyer, Michael Sherman, said Smith wrote the column that appeared this week in newspapers across the country without ever having run the story by him. "Liz is a very dear friend of mine, but I have no idea who her source on this is," Sherman said. "Don't forget, she's a gossip columnist, and she did not call me to respond to this article."

Sherman said Smith correctly reported, however, that even if there was such pressure for a plea bargain, Skakel would not succumb.

"The part of Liz's column that I take issue with is the spin which seems to be that we will win this case because just because 'the case is old and the trail is cold,' " Sherman said. "The reality is, we will win this case simply because Michael Skakel didn't do it."

Michael Skakel's father, Rushton, is the brother of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of the assassinated U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.

The elder Skakel, wealthy heir to the Great Lakes Carbon fortune, raised his seven children across the street from Martha Moxley's house in Greenwich's exclusive Belle Haven neighborhood.

Michael Skakel and his brother Thomas, who at the time were 15 and 17 years old, respectively, both emerged as suspects in Moxley's Oct. 30, 1975, murder as they had both been with the 15-year-old victim the night of the crime, and the murder weapon was identified as a golf club belonging to the Skakel family.

The case achieved a degree of notoriety because of the Skakel's famous relations, especially when critics began accusing authorities of failing to aggressively investigate because of the Kennedy name.

Then, when William Kennedy Smith was arrested in 1991, the Moxley case was revived with even greater media interest by an unfounded rumor that Smith, a Kennedy cousin accused - and later acquitted - of rape in Florida, had been visiting the Skakels in Greenwich the night Moxley was murdered.

Michael Skakel's famed relations again became a public liability in 1997, when he became a witness against cousin Michael Kennedy in a Massachusetts statutory rape case involving a baby-sitter.

Sherman yesterday confirmed that he has spoken with Kennedy family members about Skakel's murder defense, but he declined to say who specifically.

He also refused to say whether the Kennedys he has been in contact with have contributed in any way toward Skakel's defense.

"All I'm going to say is the input I've gotten from the Kennedy family has been entirely positive and supportive of Michael," Sherman said.

Michael Skakel, arrested Jan. 19 after an 18-month grand jury investigation, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Moxley. He is due to return to Superior Court in Stamford on June 20 for a reasonable cause hearing that will determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

The judge also will have to decide whether the case should be transferred to adult court for trial, since he was arraigned in juvenile court due to his being a minor at the time of the crime.

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