Attorneys for Ethel Kennedy's brother say he's incompetent to testify
Tampa Bay OnLine
10/16/98 -- 6:51 PM

STUART, Fla. (AP) - The elderly brother of Ethel Kennedy gave a jovial belly-bump to a courtroom bailiff Friday during a hearing in which his attorney said he was mentally unfit to testify about a 1975 murder. Authorities in Greenwich, Conn., are seeking to compel Rushton Skakel to appear before a grand jury to answer questions about the beating death of a 15-year-old girl in which Skakel's two sons are the suspects.

Martha Moxley, the Skakels' neighbor, was beaten to death with a 6-iron golf club from a set belonging to the Skakels. Her mother, Dorothy, and brother, John, were in the front row for Friday's hearing.

``We've been waiting for some action for 23 years,'' Mrs. Moxley said.

Interest was revived this spring when two books were published on the case, including one by former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman. In his book, Fuhrman claims Michael Skakel admitted to the killing during a group therapy session at a Maine school for troubled children.

Michael and Thomas Skakel - nephews of the late Robert F. Kennedy - have denied any involvement. No one has ever been arrested.

The elder Skakel's attorney, Richard Lubin, claimed his client's testimony now before a grand jury would be worthless because he's mentally incompetent and has memory loss. '`It would be in effect a waste of time to drag him up to Connecticut,'' Lubin said.

Skakel, 74, of Hobe Sound, wore plaid pants, sneakers and a bright blue blazer as he listened to a parade of witnesses portray him as a man prone to outrageous, unpredictable and sometimes unsavory behavior.

He refuses to shower or brush his teeth. He wears diapers and rubber pants, drives into mailboxes and sometimes steals food from strangers' plates at restaurants, said his wife of 16 years, Anna Mae Skakel. His toe nails are so long they've put holes in his shoes, she said.

``His personal hygiene is disgusting,'' she said.

He's also prone to other socially inappropriate behavior, such as ``belly bumping'' perfect strangers as if he were a professional wrestler or rubbing noses with people, she said. He surprised a bailiff during the lunch break by slamming his belly into him.

``It's embarrassing because his breath is usually foul,'' Mrs. Skakel said.

However, Skakel's own doctor testified it would not do any permanent physical or mental harm if Skakel were to fly to Connecticut to testify. He might even be lucid, said Dr. James Stafford, a neurologist.

``It's possible he might not act out,'' Stafford said.

Martin County Circuit Court Judge John Fennelly gave laywers two weeks to submit their written arguments. He did not indicate when he would rule.

Meanwhile, in a Bridgeport, Conn., courtroom, the owner of the Elan school in Poland Springs, Maine, again refused to testify about what Michael Skakel may have said while he was a student at the facility for troubled youth.

Prosecutors believe Joseph Ricci overheard Michael Skakel confess to Moxley's murder while he was in a group therapy session at the school between 1978 and 1980. That's the same assertion made in Fuhrman's book.

Ricci was ordered to appear in court Friday after refusing to testify before a grand jury last month. No decision was made on whether he'll be forced to testify, and the hearing was continued until Monday.

Michael Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, is seeking to bar Ricci from testifying, claiming what Skakel said at the school is privileged because of confidentiality laws protecting communication between psychiatrists and their patients.

Ricci told reporters he never overheard any admissions by Skakel while he was a student at Elan.

``No one's ever told me, nor have I ever overheard (any confession),'' he said.

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved.