Dorthy Moxley closes a chapter in her life
By Thomas Mellana - Greenwich Time
CHATHAM, N.J. -- When Dorthy Moxley stepped through the front doorway of her Chatham, N.J., home Wednesday night, more than 40 phone messages and more than 50 greeting cards were waiting for her.
It was the first time she had been home since a jury found Michael Skakel guilty of killing her daughter 27 years ago. It was to be her first time home for more than a day or two since moving to Stamford for Skakel's trial, which began on April 1.
"All of a sudden, I felt so exhausted," she said. "It was the first time I was by myself, the first time I didn't have to think about anyone else."
Soon after greeting her large Maine coon cat, Violet, it was time to do what she had been waiting to do for days.
"I've had a long conversation with Martha, and her father," Moxley said Friday morning, with rain pelting her living room windows and a stack of books about her daughter's murder on the coffee table in front of her.
Skakel was convicted June 7 of murdering Moxley's daughter, Martha, in 1975. Her husband, David, died of heart failure in 1988.
"We did it, we actually did it," she told them both last week. "Were we not so blessed? By everyone helping us? Everyone who wanted this for us?"
Recounting her conversation and her daughter's abbreviated life, it was the one time Moxley's voice hitched during a two-hour interview that touched on the trial, the Skakel family, Greenwich, an appeal, the media and her future.
"Even though Martha only lived to be 15, she had a wonderful, happy 15 years, which is something some people never have," she said. "My husband was only 57 when he died. But he was very accomplished, he did many of the things he wanted to do. He had a good life, too."
Dorthy Moxley picked up Martha's torch after her husband died, doing everything she could to get the dormant investigation of the unsolved murder moving again.
Quite often, that meant courting the press. But her already high profile was nothing compared to what it has become since the verdict. Larry King Live, Dateline NBC, Newsweek. Newspapers big and small, nightly newscasts, morning television talk shows. The media can't get enough of her. In the process, for her dignified demeanor during the trial and her kind words for the Skakel family afterward, she's become something of a national class act.
To which Moxley just rolls her eyes.
"I've become the most overrated person in the nation," she said. "I did nothing. All I did was, when (investigators or journalists) would come to me, I'd say 'OK, you want to do that? That's fine.' All I did was sit back and reap the rewards."
No one else is willing to discount her so easily. Her presence at the trial was so powerful that defense attorney Michael Sherman asked prospective jurors whether they would be willing to disappoint such a sympathetic figure by acquitting the man accused of killing her daughter. After the trial, a despondent Sherman said the jury's sympathy for Moxley drove the verdict.
Moxley said that if she had any influence on the jury, it wasn't her doing.
"I did not spend much time looking at the jury," she said. "I decided that I should not do that. And I really wanted very badly to be there. I wasn't about to upset anyone."
During an intense 16 days of testimony, Moxley was in the courtroom listening to nearly every minute, except for two occasions when prosecutors warned her they would show crime-scene photos of Martha's body. At her side was her son, John, as well as a rotating roster of friends and her brother, who spent a week.
"I must say, I spent a lot of time looking at Michael," she said. "I didn't think I would. . . . I've never had a conversation with him other than the morning I was at his home, looking for Martha."
On a tape played during the trial, Skakel told a writer that he panicked when Dorthy Moxley appeared at his door the morning after the murder. The Moxleys and Skakels were neighbors in the exclusive waterfront community of Belle Haven in Greenwich at the time of the murder.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict suggested during and after the trial that members of the Skakel clan must have helped Michael Skakel cover up the murder. But after the verdict Moxley praised the support several of the Skakel siblings showed their brother during the trial.
"I remember sitting there during the trial, hearing all that was said about them, about the Skakels," she said Friday. "And I remember thinking, how humiliating this had to be for those six brothers -- five brothers -- and one sister. It wasn't their fault their father was irresponsible. It wasn't their fault they didn't have the guidance when they needed it. They were victims as much as the rest of us."
In several accounts of the Skakel family that have emerged over the years, father Rushton Skakel Sr. has often been portrayed as an absentee father, at best, after the death of his wife, when the children were teenagers and younger. Skakel was away on a hunting trip at the time of the murder.
Still, Moxley does not deny that if Skakel family members helped shield Michael Skakel from the law, they share responsibility for the 27-year delay in justice. Michael Skakel was charged with the murder on Jan. 19, 2000. For the Moxleys, the gap compounded terribly the loss of Martha.
"There are people who know exactly what happened and had to help in the cover-up," Moxley said. "They have to live with this, and their conscience is not going to be easy."
Moxley realizes that, given the statute of limitations -- which says a person cannot be tried for hindering a prosecution more than five years after the fact -- charging anyone as an accessory in the delay is not possible. So she said she wastes little time thinking about it.
"Listen, there are a couple of people in the world I don't like, and Rush Skakel is one of them," she said. "But that takes a lot of energy, and I don't want to be one of these people who walks around with that. It's just so draining."
That mindset was at play when Moxley chose on several occasions during the past 2 1/2 months to take friends to the Belle Haven Club for lunch. It's where she took Benedict and the rest of the prosecution team to dinner last Sunday. It's also where a 15-year-old Michael Skakel had a few drinks in the hours before Martha Moxley was murdered.
"I just wanted to go to a nice place, and it's beautiful there," Moxley said. "I know very few people there now, but they were just as nice as you can be to me."
Some accounts of the murder have surmised that some members of the cliquey Belle Haven community closed ranks around Rushton Skakel afterward.
"One time, we went there for lunch, and my friend said, 'Are we in the enemy camp?' " Moxley remembered. "And I said, 'I don't think so.' "
Until returning to Fairfield County for the trial, Moxley had not spent much time in Greenwich since moving away many years ago. She said she did not know how she was perceived in the town where the case has hung like an albatross for a quarter century. But she said she'll never forget the reception she received from Greenwich through Norwalk, where the trial was held.
"It was overwhelming," she said. "No matter where I went, the drug store, the grocery store, the support was overwhelming."
In restaurants, her table would be sent free appetizers. People stopped her on the street to hug her. In Greenwich, a man stopped her once to kiss her.
"I didn't have one person tell me one negative thing," she said.
Last week, Sherman filed motions appealing the conviction, in which he laid out 18 errors he said the court made during trial. Included is the pretrial decision to try Skakel as an adult, and the admission of certain evidence into the trial record. Skakel, who is held without bail at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, faces 10 years to life in prison when sentenced July 19.
Moxley on Friday had not yet heard of the motions but said they come as no surprise.
"We knew he'd appeal the juvenile versus adult," she said. "He wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't dig up other things."
Moxley said she's ready for the appeals process. Having come this far, she couldn't be anything but.
"This is like having a baby," she said. "Once you get started, you have to keep going. As long as the prosecution is willing to defend the verdict, I am 100 percent there."
Still, she said, the right thing for the defense to do is "just accept it."
"Put Michael in jail and let the rest of them go on with their lives, lead wholesome lives and be good parents," she said.
In the meantime, Moxley said she's putting out feelers, trying to determine just what the next chapter of her life will be.
The question came to her when she was having her conversation with her daughter and husband the other night. "I was thinking, 'OK, now what am I supposed to do?' " she said.
She knows she wants to do something for other mothers whose lives have been hit by a tragedy like hers. At 70, she has the desire and the energy. She just has to figure out how.
"I've been through these things," she said. "I'm sure I can comfort them. S I've been through a trial. I have this rapport with the press that's turned out to be a very warm relationship. A lot of people are afraid of the press, but it's been nothing but a positive experience."
As she plans the next phase, Moxley admits she has some unfinished business left with her daughter's murder. She still hungers to know exactly what happened on the night of Oct. 30, 1975, the night her daughter was killed.
"We still have some things to find out about that night," Moxley said. "I'm pretty sure I know what happened, but I hope it all comes out eventually. Did anyone else help? What was the reason? You could tell by her diaries she wasn't interested in these boys. Was it just because she brushed him off?"
As she waits, Dorthy Moxley, Violet the cat now in her lap, said she takes comfort in her son, who lives near her in New Jersey, his wife and her two grandchildren.
"I have a small family, but it is a beautiful family," she said. "What mother could want any more? I feel really blessed."