James Murphy, a former FBI agent who runs the Jericho, N.Y.-based Sutton Associates, has been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury this Friday to be questioned about the work his firm did on the behalf of two suspects in the murder. It has been reported that instead of clearing Michael and Thomas Skakel as suspects, the Sutton Associates investigation cast even greater suspicion on the brothers who were with Moxley the night she was brutally killed with a 6- iron identified by police as belonging to a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family.
Murphy did not return a telephone call seeking comment. His attorney, Robert Gottlieb, said Murphy cannot be required to discuss his firm's investigation because such information is exempt from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege. Sutton Associates was hired by the suspects' family in 1991 in an attempt to clear the Skakel brothers as suspects in the Oct. 30, 1975 murder.
"The state (of Connecticut) is attempting to elicit that information from the private investigators who were working on behalf of Michael and Thomas, and at the direction of their attorneys," Gottlieb said. "That makes those private investigators agents of the defense attorneys, so without question there is no basis under our constitution - state or federal - that would permit this very dangerous procedure."
Also subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury Friday is Willis Krebs, a former Sutton Associates investigator who worked on the Skakel investigation. Now a detective with the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, Krebs yesterday refused to discuss the subpoena or his involvement in the Moxley case. After the hearing to quash Murphy's subpoena, Gottlieb said he would file a similar motion to quash Kreb's subpoena in a Suffolk County courtroom. "After tomorrow's session, we will be back in court later in the week," Gottlieb said yesterday.
While arguing against the subpoenas, Gottlieb said he will be representing several parties, including the suspects, their attorneys and Sutton Associates. "All of the above have the same interest," the attorney said. Michael Skakel's defense lawyer, Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, said the decision Nassau County Judge Gerald Carter will be asked to make this morning "is the easiest call in the world."
"Murphy and Krebs were hired by my predecessor, Thomas Sheridan, who represented Michael Skakel for many years," Sherman said. "Having inherited Michael Skakel from Thomas Sheridan, those two private investigators were in possession of my work product. In this particular issue, Sheridan, Murphy, Krebs and myself all stand in the same shoes, and we are all of the same mind, with the opinion that what these gentlemen did was done at the request of Michael Skakel's lawyer, with the understanding it was to be kept confidential."
Sheridan represented Michael Skakel from 1978 until shortly after the Moxley grand jury was convened in July, at which time Sherman began representing the suspect.
"It is so obvious that I represented Michael Skakel for years, and the record is very clear that I hired Sutton Associates on Michael Skakel's behalf, so it is my belief it is all privileged," Sheridan said, in reference to the results of the private detectives' investigation.
It has been reported that accounts of their activities the night Moxley was murdered, which Thomas and Michael Skakel gave the Sutton Associates investigators, greatly differed from what they told police in 1975. Thomas reportedly told the private detectives that after leaving Martha to go home, as he told police, he later went back out to meet the 15-year-old victim for a sexual encounter.
Michael reportedly told the private investigators that after returning home from a cousin's house, he climbed a tree on Moxley's property, threw pebbles at what he believed to be the victim's bedroom window, and masturbated before climbing down and trudging home through what was later determined to have been the crime scene. According to police reports, Michael stated he went directly into his house upon returning from his cousin's.
With today's hearing on Long Island, New York becomes the fourth state, in addition to Connecticut, Maine, and Florida, in which courts have considered the Moxley case. During a hearing last month in Maine, a judge ordered witness Joseph Ricci to comply with a subpoena to appear before the grand jury. Ricci allegedly heard Michael Skakel confess to murdering Moxley while Skakel attended Elan School, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation and special education facility owned by Ricci in Poland Spring, Maine.
Ricci has refused to answer the grand jury's questions, on the basis the information being sought enjoys doctor-patient privilege. The matter remains unresolved after two hearings on a prosecutor's motion to compel the Elan School owner's testimony.
Earlier this month, a hearing meant to compel testimony from the suspects' father, Rushton Skakel Sr., was held in Stuart, Fla. The elder Skakel's attorneys maintain psychological problems render Skakel incompetent as a grand jury witness, and briefs on the matter are due Friday. As a result of the legal roadblocks, the grand jury has not heard any testimony since the Sept. 23 appearance of Michael Skakel's boyhood best friend, Andy Pugh.
The Moxley case is the second high-profile case Gottlieb has been involved in recently. After high school sweethearts Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson were accused of murdering their newborn baby in a Delaware motel, Grossberg hired Gottlieb upon firing her local attorney in May 1997. After Grossberg appeared on ABC's 20/20 program, Gottlieb was removed by the judge in the case for the violation of a gag order. In separate plea bargains, Grossberg and Petersen each pleaded guilty to manslaughter in return for prison sentences of 30 and 20 months, respectively.