A Skakel witness dies, and conspiracy theorists awaken
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

Was a key witness against Martha Moxley murder defendant Michael Skakel killed as part of a conspiracy to sabotage the case against Skakel as it heads for trial?

That appears to be the thinking of some, according to Vito Colucci, an investigator for Skakel's defense team.

On Thursday, when news reports surfaced of witness Gregory Coleman's death of an apparent drug overdose, Colucci said his phone was "ringing off the hook" with anonymous calls blaming the defense team.

"You really pulled it off," one caller said, according to Colucci, adding that the caller accused the defense team of tainting the heroin that the 39-year-old witness apparently died from.

Observers of the high-profile 1975 murder case offered that the defendant's relationship to the famed Kennedy clan provokes conspiracy theorists to think the worst.

"I knew this was going to happen," Quinnipiac Law School professor William Dunlap said yesterday. "There's this whole conspiracy thing around the Kennedys, and there are people who think the Kennedys are involved in all types of cover-ups."

During a preliminary hearing in April, Coleman testified that while he and Skakel were residents of a substance abuse treatment facility, Skakel confessed that he killed Moxley with a golf club and bragged he would "get away with murder because I'm a Kennedy."

Skakel's aunt, Ethel Kennedy, is the widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Coleman's death in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday appears to have been the result of an accidental overdose, according to Rochester police spokeswoman Sgt. Cheryl Franks, who said Coleman was the sixth of seven area drug addicts to die from a batch of bad drugs in the past week.

Franks said the death had yet to be officially classified, as investigators are awaiting the results of toxicology tests, which could take as long as six weeks.

Skakel's prosecutor, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, said there was nothing about Coleman's death that would make him conduct his own investigation.

"It's up to the Rochester Police Department. Sounds like they've got some bad heroin up there," Benedict said yesterday. "I have no suspicions, other than it was an unfortunate and inevitable occurrence from someone who was a lifetime junkie."

Skakel's defense attorney, Michael Sherman, said rumors, innuendo and outright accusations concerning Coleman's death "comes with the territory."

He said, "I'm sure it will be the lead story in the National Enquirer."

Colucci, the private investigator, said, "It's at the point where people are just being totally stupid."

Sheldon Stern, who until 1999 was historian for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in Boston, agreed with Dunlap that the Kennedy name is a magnet for conspiracy theorists.

"My own speculation is that there is just so much paranoia attached to this stuff," he said. "And there's a lot of hostility out there toward the Kennedys, but I don't know who these people are. I don't have a clue."

Dunlap said he had even heard that the Kennedy family was somehow behind the cancer-related death in January of another witness, Joseph Ricci, owner of the Maine rehab that Skakel attended from 1978 to 1980.

Prosecutors have stated in court documents that Ricci was present when Skakel made admissions concerning Moxley's death.

"I think this conspiracy stuff will just get worse as this case goes on," Dunlap said.

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