By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer
Greenwich Time, July 18, 1998
Although it is unknown whether the rarely used state grand jury process will result in an indictment, some believe this latest development at least portends closure to the 23-year-old case.
"I've been going around pinching myself to see if it's really happening, because this is what I've prayed for all these years," Dorthy Moxley, the slain 15-year- old girl's mother, said yesterday. "I don't think (state prosecutors) would have asked for a grand jury if they did not feel they had enough to indict someone."
Chief Court Administrator Aaron Ment yesterday said he appointed veteran Superior Court Judge George Thim as a one-man grand jury in the Moxley case. Thim, a former public defender who has been on the bench since 1985, will direct an investigation in which he can subpoena witnesses - a power state prosecutors do not have.
Ment made the appointment after a three-judge panel sitting in New Haven late last week approved an application for a grand jury investigation. No date has been released for the start of the grand jury process, in which hearings will be held in secret and witnesses will be forbidden from discussing their testimony.
"I think the grand jury is a long-awaited, positive step in a continuation of this murder investigation," Greenwich Police Chief Peter Robbins said. "It's a further step in the investigation process which may in fact lead to the arrest of a suspect or suspects."
Former Police Chief Thomas Keegan, who was captain of detectives when Moxley was murdered, said he was glad to hear the news. "I am pleased that a grand jury will be convened and this just validates my faith in the Greenwich Police Department and the State's Attorneys office," Keegan said from his South Carolina home last night. "Never for a minute did I ever think that this case would be relegated to the back burner. I stand ready to provide testimony as needed."
According to state statute, prosecutors would have had to include in their grand jury application "a full and complete statement of the facts and circumstances relied upon by the applicant to justify his reasonable belief that the investigation will lead to a finding of probable cause that a crime or crimes have been committed." Probable cause is required for the issuance of an arrest warrant.
Prior to the Moxley case, according to Karen Berris, spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch, only 12 grand jury applications had been made since 1985. Of those, she said, five were granted.
A formal announcement of Thim's appointment had been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Bridgeport. It was to be led by Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, whose office is heading the Moxley investigation and who made the grand jury application. The news conference was canceled without public explanation yesterday, but Benedict's lead investigator on the case, inspector Frank Garr, said the cancellation had no bearing on the grand jury process.
"Nothing has changed in the investigation or the course the investigation is taking," Garr said. "The only thing that has changed is the press conference has been canceled. I can't say anything more than that." Benedict was not available for comment.
Thim, a 55-year-old Trumbull resident, has spent most of his 12-year career on the bench as a civil court judge in Bridgeport, with a brief stint as family court judge. He became administrative judge of the Bridgeport-based Fairfield Judicial District in 1991, and earlier this month, on June 2, was appointed to the district's Criminal Division.
Dr. Henry Lee, director of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory whose recent appointment as state public safety commissioner takes effect July 1, said he expects to be among witnesses called before the grand jury because of the crime scene reconstruction and evidence testing he performed for a reinvestigation of the Moxley case that was launched in 1991. He called the development "a positive step."
Lee said, "So many people have spent so many hours on this case - for myself, so many weekends and so many nights I worked on this case - I'm so happy to hear that. Hopefully the grand jury will generate some information to prove one way or another enough evidence exists to indict somebody. Hopefully witnesses will come forward and give some new information."
Because Thim has subpoena power, it is expected members of a former prominent Greenwich family that prosecutors accused of impeding the investigation over the years will be called to testify.
After initially cooperating with police, authorities have said, suspects Thomas and Michael Skakel have refused repeated requests for interviews as part of the investigation. Then 17 and 15 years old, respectively, Thomas and Michael Skakel were neighbors of Moxley and among those to be last with the girl before she was bludgeoned to death on Oct. 30, 1975, with a golf club traced to the home owned by their father, Rushton Skakel. Rushton is the brother of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Dominick Dunne, an outspoken victims' advocate who wrote a novel based on the Moxley case, said if it accomplished nothing else, the grand jury could force the Skakels to face questioning under oath. "This case is not up to the Skakels to decide," Dunne said. "This is up to the grand jury, and whatever it comes up with, well, fine. That's all I wanted, that the grand jury call the shots, not the Skakels."
Skakel attorney Thomas Sheriden declined comment yesterday.
Dunne, who became a close friend of Dorthy Moxley while writing the Moxley-based "A Season in Purgatory," said he welcomed news of the grand jury investigation. "I'm absolutely ecstatic, and ecstatic for Dorthy," he said. "She's a gutsy woman who wants to get this solved in her lifetime, as it should be."
Timothy Dumas, a Greenwich native who wrote "Greentown," a nonfiction account of the Moxley slaying, said "Hallelujah" upon learning a grand jury had been appointed. "It's about time," Dumas said. "Because they've gone ahead and taken this step, it sounds as though the powers that be in the state's attorney's office are confident they have enough information for an indictment, which means they have a lot of information we journalists don't know about."
Another who wrote a book about the Moxley case, former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, said a grand jury bodes well for the investigation regardless of its outcome. "I think at best, there could be an indictment, and at worst, there's going to be more investigative clues to follow up on," said the author of "Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?"
Fuhrman, who gained notoriety as a perjured witness in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, took some credit for moving the Moxley investigation forward. "I think 'Murder in Greenwich' gave (authorities) a little insight into what evidence they had and what it meant and who it implicated," he said.
The former detective also gave credit to Benedict, who took over the case in April from his predecessor, retired State's Attorney Donald Browne, who had headed the Moxley investigation since the beginning in 1975. Browne retired in September 1997, but remained on as special prosecutor for the Moxley matter. He quit the case April 15, citing a passage from Dumas' "Greentown" that quoted unnamed journalists speculating the homicide investigation had not been properly handled because Browne had been "paid off."
"Jonathan Benedict is fresh blood with no ego," Fuhrman said. "He's looking at the case fresh, without someone saying you made a mistake in 1975, in '76 and '77." Browne could not be reached for comment.