Maine finds no abuse in probe prompted
by Skakel trial
Associated Press

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - In a probe prompted by the murder trial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, Maine education officials have found no evidence of abuse at a drug treatment school Skakel attended in the 1970s.

Skakel's trial included testimony by his classmates about humiliation, confrontation and physical force endured by students at the Elan School in Poland, Maine. Skakel called the school "a concentration camp for kids."

Skakel, 41, was convicted on June 7 of murdering Martha Moxley in 1975 when they were both 15-year-old neighbors in a wealthy, gated community in Greenwich. He is to be sentenced on Aug. 28 in Norwalk Superior Court.

Maine investigators visited the Elan School twice in recent months. While the report is not complete, preliminary evidence indicates that students at the school are safe, Yellow Light Breen, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, told The Advocate of Stamford.

"We haven't seen anything that would suggest that students are at risk at the Elan School," Breen said.

Maine authorities investigated the program for troubled teens after several former students testified at Skakel's trial about physical and verbal abuse he endured while at Elan from 1978 to 1980.

Some former students described how Skakel was forcibly returned to the school after an escape and confronted about the Moxley killing. When he denied involvement, Skakel was put in a boxing ring and forced to fight other students who beat him severely, according to testimony.

Other punishment including forcing him to wear a sign around his neck that read in part, "Confront me on why I killed my friend Martha."

Skakel's lawyer, Michael Sherman, denied that Skakel confessed to the murder while at Elan. He argued that the school's abusive conditions influenced statements Skakel made about the night of Moxley's murder.

Maine officials called for an investigation to see if the school was complying with current law. The Maine Department of Education is the only licensing body for Elan, which was last certified in 1998, Breen said.

"We felt it was important to provide assurances to the public and the parents that we were on top of whatever was going on at the school," Breen said.

The investigation also followed a complaint filed in March by Canadian officials who protested the treatment of two teenagers there.

Canadian officials said the teens, who had stayed at Elan for several years, were subject to extreme disciplinary measures, such as the use of restraints to keep them from running away.

The investigators discussed the use of "mechanical restraints," such as straight jackets and handcuffs, with school officials, Breen said.

A Maine law passed last year outlawed such restraints, but the school has a policy for using such devices in situations in which students are threat to themselves or others, Breen said. "They've reported to us that the use of restraints is targeted at those emergency situations only," Breen said.

The final report on the investigation is due by the end of the month, Breen said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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