Old friend doubts Skakel's innocence
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time
STAMFORD - Voices from two vastly different worlds once inhabited by Michael Skakel yesterday came back to haunt the Martha Moxley murder defendant during the second day of testimony in a pretrial hearing.
One witness described himself as coming from drug-infested neighborhoods and said he once lived beneath a bridge, and the other came from a life of privilege in Greenwich's exclusive Belle Haven neighborhood, where he was Skakel's best friend.
Both testified they'd had potentially incriminating conversations with Skakel.
The first witness was 38-year-old Gregory Coleman, a self-described crack cocaine abuser and convicted felon who is nearing the end of his latest sentence in a Rochester, N.Y., prison. After testifying for the state on Tuesday, Coleman was back in court to undergo cross-examination by Skakel defense attorney Michael Sherman.
Coleman testified Tuesday that he and Skakel attended the same substance abuse rehabilitation center in 1978, and that late one night Skakel told him he "drove in (Moxley's) skull" with a golf club and that he would get away with murder because he was related to the Kennedy family.
Skakel was a resident of the Elan School, the Poland Spring, Maine, rehab center, from 1978 to 1980 for treatment of alcohol abuse. In addition to being known as a school for troubled children from wealthy families, youths from all walks of life also were placed there by the courts.
Sherman attacked Coleman's credibility by asking the witness whether his memory might be faulty due to his admitted drug and alcohol abuse. Coleman answered by saying he had short-term memory lapses, but his long-term memory was fine.
Referring to Coleman's testimony Tuesday that Skakel told him the murder weapon was a driver, which has a head made of wood, Sherman showed the witness the actual murder weapon - a 6-iron, which has a head made of metal.
"You said Michael Skakel told you it was a driver. How do we account for that?" Sherman asked.
"That is what I heard, that is what I recalled, that is what I'm sticking to," Coleman replied.
After noting Coleman had given conflicting testimony as to how many times he had heard Skakel confess to Moxley's murder, Sherman asked the witness, "Are you making any other mistakes today or yesterday?"
During an extended pause, Coleman averted his eyes toward the ceiling, and then answered, "I would say my recall at times would be questionable."
To that, Sherman responded, "Those 10 seconds (before Coleman answered) really bother the hell out of me."
Sherman also probed Coleman's motives for testifying, asking the witness about the $1,200 he had wanted from the State's Attorney's Office prior to yesterday's hearing. Coleman said the money, which he never received, would have been used to tide him over from the time he gets released from the Rochester prison until he became eligible for welfare.
Coleman, who was held at Greenwich police headquarters during his brief stay in Connecticut, was returned yesterday to Rochester to complete the one-year prison sentence he was given for breaking into his wife's house.
The second witness yesterday was 39-year-old Andrew Pugh, a Fairfield bond trader who had been Skakel's best friend when they lived next to each other on Belle Haven's Otter Rock Drive. Both attended local private schools - Pugh said he went to Greenwich Country Day School while Skakel was enrolled at Whitby School - and that they got together "virtually every day" after school.
At times during the hearing, members of the Skakel family in attendance could be seen exchanging glances or making facial expressions that appeared to show disbelief or scorn for some witnesses, including Coleman. But after Pugh took the witness stand, Skakel's sister and four brothers seemed to become more somber and focused as they listened to the testimony of someone who had inhabited their privileged world and even visited their home.
Pugh testified that he and Skakel drifted apart after Moxley's murder, and that after not having seen each other since 1980, they met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Christ Church Greenwich in 1991.
"We greeted each other and spoke for a while, and discussed getting together and possibly renewing our acquaintance," Pugh recalled.
But Pugh said he balked at a reunion when Skakel telephoned him less than a month later, because of concerns that his boyhood friend possibly had been involved in the Moxley murder.
"I had some doubts as to his involvement," Pugh testified.
The witness said he was "addled" by information Skakel volunteered during the conversation, in which the defendant placed himself at the crime scene the night of Oct. 30, 1975, when Moxley was bludgeoned and stabbed with the golf club, which was owned by the Skakel family. The 15-year-old victim's body was found the following day beneath a pine tree on her family's property, across the street from the Skakels'.
"(Skakel) said he was on (Moxley's) property that evening in that tree masturbating, but he had nothing to do with her death," Pugh said.
During direct examination by State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict on Tuesday, Coleman testified that Skakel had told him in 1978 at Elan School that some time after the murder he returned to Moxley's lifeless body and masturbated over it. Another former Elan School resident, John Higgins, also testified on Tuesday that Skakel confessed to him in 1978 that he killed Moxley with a golf club.
Pugh stated that soon after speaking with Skakel, he began receiving telephone calls from an employee of Sutton Associates, a private investigations firm retained by the Skakel family.
"They said they were attempting to do an investigation to finally answer all the questions that have been raised about the Skakel family and the death of Martha Moxley," Pugh said. He said the investigator called him nearly every day for about a month, seeking to arrange a meeting, but Pugh said he turned down the investigator each time.
"I didn't feel that, given my bias toward who I thought did this (murder), that I should be helping to defend that party," Pugh explained.
The two days of testimony has been part of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for Skakel's case to proceed to trial. If Judge Maureen Dennis finds that "reasonable cause" to believe Skakel murdered Moxley exists, she must then decide whether Skakel will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.
Skakel was charged as a juvenile because he was 15 at the time of the murder.
In accordance with 1975 law, Skakel could face a maximum of four years if he is convicted as a juvenile. If convicted as an adult, he could be sentenced to 25 years to life.
The preliminary hearing was to reconvene this morning, when Sherman will begin presenting rebuttal witnesses, which he said will include other former Elan School residents and at least two "experts."
One of those experts, a psychologist, Sherman said, will be able to explain how it is possible Skakel may have confessed to a murder that he did not commit. Through previous testimony, Elan School has been described as a facility that employed sometimes controversial rehabilitation techniques, such as placing residents in boxing rings in which they were beaten until owning up to actual or perceived wrongs.