A closer look at Skakel's hearing
Editor's note: The following are excerpts from the hearing held to determine whether there is probable cause to try Michael Skakel for murder in the 1975 death of Martha Moxley of Greenwich. The hearing was held June 20, 21 and 28 in State Superior Court in Stamford.
Judge Maureen Dennis, who presided, will rule on the issues of probable cause and whether Skakel - a minor at the time of the crime - should be tried as a juvenile or adult.
These excerpts are verbatim from court records, and presented in the actual sequence of testimony, but do not represent the full transcript.
JUNE 20, 21
SHEILA McGUIRE, a neighbor who found Moxley's body on Oct. 31, 1975. The questioner is JONATHAN BENEDICT, the prosecutor.
BENEDICT: As you were proceeding through the Moxley property, did you have occasion to notice anything unusual?
McGUIRE: What I thought was an egg crate foam mattress at the base of a tree. It wasn't until I was right on top of it, I observed that it was Martha. She was face down, her legs were to the left facing a rock, her head was to my right. I called to her, "Martha." She didn't respond.
BENEDICT: What did you do after that?
McGUIRE: I went to her home. I banged on the door, "Let me in." There were many women in the home and I told her that I found Martha and they should call an ambulance.
BENEDICT: And then what did you next do?
McGUIRE: I sat there crying.
THOMAS KEEGAN, who headed the murder investigation as captain of the Greenwich police detective division, and retired as Greenwich police chief in 1986.
BENEDICT: In the course of the scene investigation, did you have occasion to observe any suspected murder weapon?
KEEGAN: We found sections of a golf club that had been determined to be the weapon used to kill this child. There were traces of blood. They did not comprise an entire golf club because a section of that club was not present at the scene. It would be the handle section of the club and the part of the metal shaft as well, where the grips are. It was a Tony Penna six iron.
BENEDICT: In the course of investigating the specific location where the third portion of the golf club was found apparently by itself, did you notice any evidence of signs of injury?
KEEGAN: There was pooling of blood and there was the beginning of the drag pattern where this section was found. The body was dragged some 60 feet, 80 feet, up to the pine tree and partially concealed under the branches.
Cross-examination by MICHAEL SHERMAN, defense attorney.
SHERMAN: Do you know whether or not there was ever any findings made of evidence submitted by you to the criminalist linking any of those items, the last few exhibits, to any individual, any DNA, any fingerprints, any blood stains which say those items belong to an individual?
KEEGAN: There were no fingerprints that were detected.
SHERMAN: And, when did the FBI get involved?
KEEGAN: After the evidence was collected, it was secured and packaged and some were sent to the FBI lab and I think it all went to the FBI lab.
SHERMAN: And you didn't feel too proud as the head of the detective division to let another agency assist you, correct?
KEEGAN: I don't think pride entered into it. It is common police practice to use the FBI.
SHERMAN: And it is fair to say that over the last 25 years, your department chief and you have taken a lot of heat undeservably for botching this crime scene?
BENEDICT: Objection, relevance.
SHERMAN: I think he should be entitled to answer that.
JUDGE DENNIS: Attorney Sherman, how do you claim that as relevant to this hearing?
SHERMAN: No reason I can think of at the moment, Your Honor.
JUDGE DENNIS: Objection sustained.
SHERMAN: Did you find other Tony Penna clubs?
KEEGAN: There was a Tony Penna club located at the Skakel home.
SHERMAN: The club that you found, the other Tony Penna club that was found in the Skakel residence, was that given over to you without any search warrant?
KEEGAN: That's true. We had permission to search the home and it carried on for some time and I don't recall what the length of time was. And that permission was subsequently withdrawn.
SHERMAN: Would it be fair to say that you had permission to search and use the Skakel home for about three months after the murder?
Redirect by prosecution
BENEDICT: (Sherman) asked you if there were any findings by the criminalist, where portions of the golf club was sent to, that pointed to any particular person. Were both, if you know, the portions of golf club found at the crime scene and club found at the Skakel home, were they both sent to (criminalist)?
KEEGAN: They were.
BENEDICT: What if anything did you learn?
KEEGAN: I learned that these two clubs were brother and sister, that they had come in contact with each other.
SHERMAN: So, who did this golf club then point the finger at?
KEEGAN: It didn't point the finger at anyone. It merely established the fact that the club we located within the Skakel home was one in the same as the club that was used to bludgeon that child to death.
SHERMAN: Did you make an investigation or determination as to whether or not it was customary or not customary for anyone in the Skakel family including and especially Rushton Skakel, Mr. Skakel's father, to leave golf clubs around the yard?
KEEGAN: It was reported that golf clubs were left out. I remember it because the theory was that some transient came through, picked up a golf club and killed the girl. That doesn't hold water.
KEEGAN: Because the section of the golf club that is missing was clearly marked with the Skakel name. It seems improbable to me that any transient A, would know that name was on there and, B, deliberately break that club and take that section of club with him or hide it. The only one who would be interested in doing that would be someone who knew it was on that handle.
SHERMAN: So, because that part is missing, your conclusion is that someone held that piece of club simply to hide the name tag and that person must be a Skakel, correct?
KEEGAN: My conclusion is that the person that killed Martha was aware that that name was on the club. The club was deliberately broken. That section was removed, destroyed, hidden or whatever happened to it to this day because that person knew that it was there. That is my conclusion, Mr. Sherman.
JOHN D. HIGGINS - Prosecution witness; 37-year-old resident of Lisle, Illinois; attended Elan School from 1977 to 1979.
BENEDICT: Do you recall while you were a student at Elan having occasion to have a conversation with Michael Skakel about his involvement in a murder in Greenwich, Connecticut?
HIGGINS: Yes, I do. On the front porch of the dormitory. It was in the evening when everybody was asleep.
BENEDICT: In the course of this conversation, did Mr. Skakel explain to you why he was there?
HIGGINS: He related to me that he had been involved with a murder of someone or at that time when he started talking about it, thought that he had been involved with this.
BENEDICT: How long did this conversation last?
HIGGINS: I couldn't be sure, maybe a couple of hours.
BENEDICT: And, would you describe Mr. Skakel's mood through his conversation?
HIGGINS: Sobbing, crying.
BENEDICT: In the course of this conversation, what if anything did he tell you that he recalled in regards to any involvement he may have thought he had in this murder?
HIGGINS: He related that he was in his garage and he was going through some golf clubs and he had a golf club. He was outside of his garage running through some woods and he remembers seeing pine trees and he blacked out. He doesn't have any other recollection and he told me that. In his house, he woke up the next day. He said he didn't know whether he did it and he couldn't remember if he did it. And throughout the course of the several hours or however long this conversation went on, he eventually said that he in fact did it.
Cross-examination by Sherman
SHERMAN: Did Michael Skakel tell you that he committed this crime?
HIGGINS: Yes, he did.
SHERMAN: Did you ever lie about this to anybody?
SHERMAN: When Inspector (Frank) Garr contacted you initially about this case, did you lie to him? Yes or no?
HIGGINS: Yes, I suppose I could have. Well, by not telling him all of the truth, that could be considered a lie. I didn't want to talk to this guy or anybody else about it ever.
SHERMAN: Did you ever tell Detective Garr at this time that, "I live by and die by the truth." Do you remember saying that?
HIGGINS: Yes, I do.
SHERMAN: What do you mean by that?
HIGGINS: That I am an honest person.
SHERMAN: But, when you told him that, you were lying to him; right?
HIGGINS: I can't recall at this time.
GREGORY COLEMAN - Prosecution witness; 38 years old; has a record of previous convictions and at the time of his testimony was serving out a one-year prison sentence in Rochester, N.Y., for breaking into his wife's house. He was a resident at Elan School from 1978 to 1980. He was assigned to guard Skakel after Skakel had escaped from, and was returned to, Elan.
COLEMAN: The first night that I was assigned to watch Mr. Skakel, it was obvious that he was given special privileges. He got to be guarded in the presence of a stereo, his records and any other amenities that he seemed to want. I made the comment that this guy can get away with murder. At which point he in turn said to me, "I am going to get away with murder, I am a Kennedy."
BENEDICT: Did he describe to you his involvement in the murder of this young person?
COLEMAN: The comment that sticks out in my mind was that he said he drove her skull in. He drove her skull in, which I took as with a golf club, with a driver, specifically. He had made a comment that he was trying to make advances towards this girl and that this girl was not complying with those advances and thus he drove her skull in. Subsequently, days later, he said that he had gone back. I don't know if that's true, but that's what I heard. It was my impression that he had masturbated on the body.
I would have to say the only other admission that I heard coming from Mr. Skakel was during a therapy session which was referred to as a primal scream therapy session.
SHERMAN: Are you pretty sure about this, Greg?
SHERMAN: Are you as sure about this as you are sure that he told you that he masturbated over the body a couple of days later?
COLEMAN: Yes, I am sure he said that.
SHERMAN: You have been convicted of how many felonies?
COLEMAN: Convicted of one felony.
SHERMAN: Are you looking for anything here from the state's attorney?
COLEMAN: A couple of weeks ago, upon learning that my father was dying of cancer, and seeing that my prospects were dim upon getting out of jail and back on the street, I contacted (state Inspector) Frank Garr by writing and asked if he could help me financially as to avoid going back to the streets. So, yes, in essence, I did ask for something.
SHERMAN: You asked for money?
COLEMAN: I asked for money, yes, sir.
SHERMAN: When did it first come up that you wanted a pass out of jail for testifying?
COLEMAN: I asked (Garr) if he could do anything as far as lowering my time. It's a small payoff. I would testify in this case regardless of if I was still sleeping under a bridge.
SHERMAN: Because you are a good citizen?
COLEMAN: I am a good citizen.
SHERMAN: So, if you are a good citizen, why did you wait 20 years before calling anybody?
COLEMAN: I am going to tell you why and I am glad you asked me that. As I have said in prior testimony, I did not - I was not surprised. I didn't drop over when Michael Skakel revealed to me that he murdered some girl. I was, quote, incarcerated with up to over 100 different people over two years. I heard so many stories it would probably make some people's ears go over, but not me. I was in an environment where money was everything, money saved embarrassment of family, prosecution from justice, you know, all kinds of things. I waited 20 years because I thought that Michael Skakel was going to get away with murder because he was a Kennedy.
SHERMAN: Now, how do you account for the fact that you saw a (television) show that talked about a golf club that wasn't a driver?
COLEMAN: Well, they, on the show, on the news, they showed a, I believe it was a six iron, just the head and part of the shaft.
SHERMAN: Greg, here is the club, this is it. (Sherman shows Coleman the head of the murder weapon). That's not a driver. Michael Skakel told you he killed her with a driver?
COLEMAN: As I said before, that is what I heard, that is what I recall and that's what I am sticking to.
SHERMAN: The same thing about the masturbating on the body, there is some confusion. I want to make sure I got this right. Are you telling us that he told you he did this and then a few days later, he told you, by the way, I masturbated on the body?
COLEMAN: That's not what I heard. Contrary to what has been told to me now, I recall him saying, whether it was factual or not, that he returned to the body two days later and masturbated on the body.
SHERMAN: And, again, is that your story and are you sticking to it?
COLEMAN: Yes, sir.
SHERMAN: Are you afraid of, or were you afraid that somebody was going to hurt you because of your giving information in this case?
COLEMAN: I was concerned about coming to Greenwich, Connecticut, that I would be in some danger, yes.
SHERMAN: In Greenwich, Connecticut? You aren't planning on going to the beach, are you?
JUDGE DENNIS: Attorney Sherman.
SHERMAN: Yes, Your Honor, I am sorry.
THE COURT: Ask questions that are relevant and material, please.
SHERMAN: You really were in fear of your person coming to Greenwich, Connecticut, to testify in this case?
COLEMAN: There wasn't any definite promise where I would be in the state of Connecticut. I could have ended up in a state facility, a federal facility, any facility. I didn't know where I was going. Of course, it was a concern.
SHERMAN: But that concern would have been a lot easier to deal with if they forked over the $1,200?
COLEMAN: Of course not.
MR. SHERMAN: Nothing further.
ALICE DUNN - Called by defense, 40 years old, of Portland, Maine, was an Elan staff member during Skakel's stay.
SHERMAN: Now, Greg Coleman has told us that he in fact attended one of those (primal scream therapy) sessions that you ran with Michael Skakel. Do you remember what the focus of that session was? Was it the murder of Martha Moxley?
DUNN: Absolutely not.
SHERMAN: Now, just to digress a tiny bit, was it common for people to talk about their alleged crimes at Elan?
DUNN: People were usually sent there for a specific reason or a specific symptom, if you would. And if things happened in the facility where people were boasting about something they got away with or doing something illegal, whether it was stealing a car or breaking into a house, you would kind of hear about it, and it would become common knowledge.
SHERMAN: Was it common knowledge that Michael admitted that he killed Martha Moxley?
DUNN: Absolutely not.
SHERMAN: Any question about that?
DUNN: 100 percent, no question.
BENEDICT: Isn't it true that what you related to the grand jury was that the response you got from him was, "I don't know if I did it, it was myself or it was my brother. It was one of us, but I was in a blackout and I don't remember?"
DUNN: It was part of my testimony, that is correct.
BENEDICT: Now, do you recall also in the course of testifying before the grand jury relating another conversation, a private conversation, you had with Mr. Skakel where the two of you were in, I think, a bar together?
DUNN: Yeah, it was actually a restaurant.
BENEDICT: Do you recall that one thing you spoke about in the course of this time you were at this particular restaurant was the murder of the young woman in Greenwich, Connecticut? And, as you sit there now, do you recall what you told the grand jury that Mr. Skakel said in the course of this particular conversation?
DUNN: I think that we had a couple of drinks. We were kind of loosened up and it was kind of just something that É
BENEDICT: Again, yes or no?
DUNN: I don't feel like it could be answered yes or no.
BENEDICT: Do you recall telling the grand jury that what Mr. Skakel told you was that as far as he was concerned, he might have done it?
DUNN: I absolutely said it, if you have it written down there.
SHERMAN: Do you recall telling the grand jury, "I thought I was the one that could crack him and make him admit to the fact that he had done all this stuff," right?
DUNN: Yes. He was on his hands and knees and he said I don't know what to believe anymore. I don't know what happened. I don't know if I did it. I don't know. I don't know if my brother did it. I don't know. We were drinking. I don't remember anything about the night. There was nothing cut and dry about any kind of admission. I didn't walk away from there feeling like I had cracked him and that he had admitted anything to me.
ANGELA McFILLIN - Defense witness, 37, laboratory technician at unnamed medical school, resident of Elan, 1978-80.
SHERMAN: By the way, what brought you here today?
McFILLIN: I heard through various media reports that Michael had been arrested based on testimony, at the time I didn't know who, from former Elan residents. Since I was there, I thought the truth should come out since his life is on the line.
SHERMAN: Did you ever have occasion to hear Michael Skakel confess to the murder of Michael Moxley?
SHERMAN: Did you ever hear anyone confront Michael about this?
McFILLIN: Yes. It came up on a few occasions. Michael denied it. There was a general meeting. I was present at the general meeting after Michael had run away. Initially, he was confronted about it and denied it.
SHERMAN: If John Higgins were to lie, was it something good for him?
McFILLIN: Yes. He would be rewarded, brownie points with the staff, that type of thing, make himself look better.
SHERMAN: And, did he do that routinely?
McFILLIN: When he had the opportunity.
SARAH PETERSEN - Defense witness, 38, of Key West, Fla., Elan resident, 1979-80
SHERMAN: How did you get here?
PETERSEN: When I read about the case against Michael and the kind of evidence they had and the kind of people who were saying the things they were such as John Higgins saying that he had admitted this, I knew that that was not the truth. And I did not feel like I could stand by and let a lie like that affect a man's life.
SHERMAN: Was it common knowledge (at Elan) that Michael Skakel murdered a girl?
PETERSEN: No, it was not.
SHERMAN: You told us that you believe John Higgins lied here, right?
PETERSEN: I do.
SHERMAN: Why do you say that?
PETERSEN: John in the program of Elan was well-known for letting anything you said to him be known to everybody because it achieved him two things. It achieved him brownie points with the staff members and it also made him feel more adequate as a person. He was the kind of person who always was trying to look for dirt on somebody else to make himself look better and to make other people look worse.
SHERMAN: And, when he found dirt on people, he kept it to himself or shared it with the world?
PETERSEN: He shared it with the world. It was an open-book thing in Elan. When somebody did something, it was common knowledge among all the people who were there.
SHERMAN: Was it common knowledge that Michael Skakel confessed to John Higgins?
PETERSEN: No, sir.
SHERMAN: Was it common knowledge that Michael Skakel confessed to anybody?
PETERSEN: No, sir.
SHERMAN: Did he ever confess to you at Elan?
PETERSEN: No. In fact, he told me that he could never do anything like that and that he said even if he was drinking and in a blackout, there would have been some physical evidence when he awakened, and that he knew as a person that he couldn't do that because it was not something that was in his heart. He was always a very kind person.