Skakel trial was a tale of torment
NORWALK, Conn. -- In the end, the Martha Moxley murder mystery became a tale of torment that engulfed two rival brothers and their household help, two families and people in one of America's richest towns for more than a quarter-century.
Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was convicted Friday of beating Moxley to death with a golf club in Greenwich in October 1975, when they were 15-year-old neighbors. Moxley was repeatedly beaten with the club and then stabbed through the neck with the broken shaft.
The prosecution was based largely on testimony that Skakel had made incriminating statements over the years.
The trial underscored the troubled life of a teen-ager born into a family that owned Great Lakes Carbon, one of the world's largest privately held companies, and married into the Kennedy family.
Skakel, devastated by the slow death of his mother from cancer in 1973, was a heavy drinker and drug user by his early teens, according to testimony. He struggled in school, apparently because of dyslexia, and had a fierce rivalry with his older brother Thomas.
A family chauffeur described a wild ride to New York in which Skakel twice bolted out of the car and ran to the side of the Triborough Bridge. The driver said Skakel told him he had done something very bad and he had to either kill himself or get out of the country.
Skakel was upset because he had slept with his mother's dress, his attorney, Michael Sherman, said. Prosecutors didn't doubt that happened, but said the real reason was Skakel's torment over Moxley's murder.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Skakel had a crush on Moxley, but she was not interested in him. One witness said Skakel was upset that his brother stole his girlfriend.
Now a divorced father of a 2-year-old son, Skakel spent much of his adult life in rehabilitation programs.
Moxley's murder devastated many lives.
"After Martha died, I was like a zombie," Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother, testified on the first day of the trial. "I just barely functioned."
Dorthy and her son, John, wept over the guilty verdict, which capped a 27-year campaign for justice. But even on what they called "Martha's day," the popular and attractive blonde of 1975 was still gone.
"It's bittersweet," said John Moxley, tears streaming down his face. "It's a hollow victory."
The trial underscored the loss: a photo of a smiling Moxley displayed on a screen would suddenly dissolve into a grim crime scene photo. And Moxley's diaries were introduced as evidence, showing a happy girl having the time of her life as she came of age.
Moxley's murder cast a cloud of suspicion over the Skakel family for more than a quarter-century. Thomas Skakel was long a suspect because he was the last person seen with Moxley; the family was accused of a cover-up.
The Skakels spent an untold sum on 27 years of attorney fees and to hire a private investigative firm in an effort to clear the Skakel brothers. But the effort backfired when the brothers changed their accounts of their movements the night of the murder.
The Greenwich police department was often accused of showing too much deference to a wealthy connected family and with bungling the investigation.
Nancy Baran, the widow of former Greenwich police Chief Stephen Baran, said her husband felt persistent regrets about the department's inability to solve the crime during his tenure in the 1970s.
"It was a heartache he took to his death," she told the Greenwich Time. "But I think the chief will feel some peace tonight."
The trial underscored how much investigators focused on Thomas Skakel and Kenneth Littleton, who had just started his job as a Skakel family tutor. Investigators apparently thought Michael Skakel had a solid alibi - that he had taken a trip to his cousin's house the night of the murder.
The investigation took a heavy toll on Littleton. State investigators targeted him for years and even set up an operation in a Boston hotel in which his former wife repeatedly lied to him in an effort to get him to confess.
Littleton's robotic testimony revealed a life transformed from a bright young teacher into a heavily medicated manic depressive who at once admires and fears the Kennedys.
Littleton admitted he had once claimed to police he was "Kenny Kennedy," a black-sheep member of the family. That incident occurred in Florida in the early 1980s, when Littleton climbed a 16-story structure and gave John F. Kennedy's famous Berlin speech, Sherman said.
Asked why he used that alias, Littleton said, "Because JFK is my hero."
Sherman also brought up comments Littleton made to a one-judge grand jury, in which he suggested the Skakels or Kennedys may have been involved in a conspiracy to have him killed with a cocaine injection.
Many Greenwich residents - including police - had a hard time believing one of their own could murder Moxley. An early theory: an outsider came in from the Connecticut Turnpike and committed the murder.
"Somehow it pierced their world in a way they didn't want pierced," said Christy Kalan, one of Martha's friends. "It was messy and they didn't want it to mess up their world."
But the murder weapon was traced to a set of golf clubs owned by Skakel's mother.
Now Skakel sits in a sparse prison cell, convicted of a long-ago murder long ago through his own words.
"We worked very, very hard to find something that would acquit Michael Skakel," juror Cathy Lazansky of Greenwich said. "We just couldn't."