"Skakel Sr. to Testify"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time

The father of the two suspects in the 1975 Martha Moxley murder must testify before the Connecticut grand jury investigating the Greenwich girl's brutal slaying, a Florida appeals court ruled yesterday.

The ruling comes nearly a year after Rushton Skakel Sr. was summoned from his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., to provide testimony in the Bridgeport-based probe targeting sons Michael and Thomas Skakel.

The three judges of the 4th District Court of Appeal unanimously rejected arguments that the 74-year-old Skakel is mentally incompetent to provide testimony and that traveling to Connecticut would be an undue hardship.

The appellate court instead gave more weight to a Connecticut investigator's affidavit to the Florida trial court stating the suspects' father had attended a meeting at a drug and alcohol treatment center during which "Michael made certain admissions regarding his involvement in the murder."

West Palm Beach attorney Richard Lubin, who represented Skakel in the competency hearing and appeal, said no further attempts to block the subpoena would be made.

"Let's just get it over with," Lubin said. "The state (of Connecticut) will find out Mr. Skakel knows nothing of the offense, so let's be done with it. He's every bit as incompetent as he was during the original hearing."

Skakel, formerly of Greenwich, was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on Sept. 21. In issuing the order, Connecticut Superior Court Judge John Ronan certified Skakel as a "material and necessary" witness based on the facts that Moxley was killed with a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family, and that the murder occurred near the Skakel residence.

Police said Michael and Thomas Skakel were with Moxley, then 15, the night of the crime, and prosecutors have since alleged both suspects significantly changed their original alibis in recent years.

After the elder Skakel was subpoenaed, his attorneys quickly moved to block the order on the incompetency and hardship claims. In an Oct. 16 hearing in Martin County Circuit Court in Florida, Skakel's wife, priest, physician and maid gave testimony that portrayed Skakel as someone suffering from a schizophrenic-type disorder, who "belly bumps" strangers and cannot remember the names of family members and friends, no less events concerning a 23-year-old murder.

In rejecting the motion, Martin County Judge John Fennelly stated that the seriousness of the crime being investigated in Connecticut outweighed any hardship Skakel might endure.

The judge also noted in his Nov. 10 ruling that he was unable to observe Skakel's potential as a witness since he was never called to testify on his own behalf. Fennelly also quoted a psychiatric evaluation presented by Skakel's own physician that stated Skakel "feigns sickness and has instantaneous recoveries."

After several delays, mostly due to the misplacement of trial court documents, arguments on the appeal of Fennelly's ruling were finally heard June 9.

The Connecticut grand jury's work reportedly is largely done, with the only remaining hurdle being the pending decision of another appeal concerning testimony.

In December, a Superior Court judge ruled that the owner of the Maine rehab center where Michael Skakel allegedly made incriminating admissions must testify. Michael Skakel appealed on claims that, among other things, allowing such testimony would violate the doctor-patient privilege.

Prosecutors have said Elan School owner Joseph Ricci's testimony is needed because Michael Skakel allegedly made the admissions upon being confronted by Ricci at the Poland Spring, Maine, facility. Several former residents and staff members of Elan School have already appeared before the grand jury, but their testimony would have to be disregarded as evidence should the Appellate Court rule in Michael Skakel's favor.