Skakel Hearing
Associated Press (AP)

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Kennedy nephew Michael Skakel admitted his involvement in a 1975 murder to two former classmates while attending a school for troubled youths, those classmates testified Tuesday.

The witnesses, John Higgins and Gregory Coleman, were students with Skakel at the Elan School, a residential substance abuse treatment center for youths, in the late 1970s.

Skakel, 39, is charged as a juvenile in the October 1975 slaying of Greenwich teen-ager Martha Moxley. Both Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time of the killing. Coleman testified that he had noticed that Skakel had special privileges at the school- including a stereo and records.

Coleman said that he made a comment to Skakel that it appeared he could get away with murder. Coleman says Skakel replied, "I'm gonna get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."

Coleman said Skakel told him he beat Moxley's skull in with a golf club after she rejected his romantic advances. Earlier, Higgins testified that one night while he and Skakel were on "night owl duty" - making sure no one ran away from the dormitory- a sobbing Skakel discussed the Moxley murder.

"He related to me that he had been involved in a murder ... or thought that he had been involved," Higgins said. Higgins said Skakel told him he remembered going through golf clubs stored in the Skakel family garage, then running through the woods and seeing pine trees, then blacking out and awakening the next morning.

Moxley was beaten to death with a 6-iron; the club was traced to a set owned by the Skakels. "He said that he didn't know whether he did it and he couldn't remember," Higgins said. "He eventually said that he, in fact, did it."

On cross-examination, Higgins admitted that he and Skakel were never close friends, and that he had lied about Skakel's alleged comments when contacted by a police detective many years later.

"I didn't want to talk to this guy- or anybody else- about it, ever," Higgins said. Defense lawyer Michael Sherman suggested Higgins had only come forward after he heard about a reward. But Higgins said he had never tried to claim the reward, which later was withdrawn.

Sherman asked Higgins if he would be surprised to learn there was no garage on the Skakel property. Higgins replied that he could only relate what Skakel had told him.

"I don't make his story for him," Higgins said. Skakel became visibly upset during Higgins' testimony, a tear trickling down his cheek.

"He's just very upset about hearing this moron get up there and lie," Sherman said during a break.

Earlier, an investigator said only someone who knew the Skakel family name was on the murder weapon would have wanted to hide the club's handle.

Former police Chief Thomas Keegan, a captain in the detective division at the time of the murder, acknowledged that the Skakels told police they often left golf clubs lying in the yard of their estate in the wealthy enclave of Belle Haven. But he told State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict that police did not think the slaying was committed by a stranger. The club used in the killing broke into several pieces, and the handle was never recovered despite an extensive search of the neighborhood including draining swimming pools and checking the Long Island Sound.

"My conclusion is that the person who killed Martha was aware that that name was on the club," Keegan said. The hearing is expected to last several days. Under the law in effect at the time of the killing, Skakel could face a maximum of only four years if he were convicted as a juvenile. If he were convicted as an adult, he could get 25 years to life.

Martha's body was found under a tree on her family's estate. She had been at the Skakel house the night before with a group of friends, including Michael Skakel and his older brother, Thomas Skakel, then 17.

Authorities suspected Thomas Skakel for years, but switched their attention to Michael after he changed his story about his movements the night of the murder.

Rushton Skakel Sr., the father of Michael and Thomas Skakel, is the brother of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.

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