'Murder in Greenwich' to air Nov. 15
By James O'Keefe - Greenwich Time
A group of trick-or-treaters stop to watch as a white medical examiner's hearse carrying the body of Martha Moxley rolls through the dark, autumnal streets of Greenwich on Halloween night, 1975.
The stylized image is from the new movie "Dominick Dunne presents Murder in Greenwich," based on the best seller by former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman. It premieres Nov. 15 on USA Network.
The movie jumps back and forth in time from 1975 to 1997, recounting the events leading up to Moxley's death and Fuhrman's investigation into the murder.
It ends with the June conviction of Moxley's former neighbor, Michael Skakel, and shows newsreel footage of Skakel being led away from court in a prison jumpsuit.
Moxley, played by 18-year-old Maggie Grace, is the film's on-screen narrator.
"In 1974, my family moved to Belle Haven . . . it was the richest neighborhood in the richest city in the richest country in the world," Moxley's character says as the camera pans over a picturesque seaside enclave. "Across the street on Otter Rock Drive, that's where the Skakels live. They were our neighbors. They were rich and they were Kennedys."
Moments later, Moxley's battered body is discovered in fallen leaves outside her family's sprawling home.
"This was the morning after Mischief Night. We called it 'Hacker Night,' the eve of Halloween, a night of parties and innocent pranks," Moxley's character says. "But what happened that night between my house and the Skakel house ruined this town. Belle Haven was supposed to be safe . . . there are no murders in heaven."
Director Tom McLoughlin said he went to great lengths to portray Moxley as accurately as possible.
"What we were really trying to get was the essence of Martha, her spirit," said the Emmy-nominated director. "Everything I read about her described her as lighting up a room -- someone with a great personality, someone who laughed a lot and enjoyed life. She had a wonderful innocence to this whole world she walked into . . . a beautiful young girl caught between the jealousy of these two brothers."
In the movie, Moxley's character meets Michael Skakel and his older brother, Thomas, at the Belle Haven Club in Greenwich. She strikes up a friendship with the shy Michael and develops a growing attraction to the more self-confident Tommy. Michael Skakel is played by Jon Foster and Tommy is portrayed by Toby Moore.
The Skakel household is shown as a place where children have wild parties and little to no parental supervision.
"I was trying to have some empathy for (Michael Skakel's) situation. . . . Here we saw a boy who was probably drinking since he was 12 and was probably on LSD that night. That's how I had Jon play it," said McLoughlin, who volunteers his time with troubled youth in his native California. "(Michael) was a ticking time bomb and, unfortunately, Martha was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and Michael acted out."
The young actors researched their characters before filming started, McLoughlin said. Moore wanted to contact Thomas Skakel to help Moore prepare for the role, but was advised against it, the director said.
Christopher Meloni, star of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and Showtime's "Oz," portrays Fuhrman.
"I didn't ever want to sugarcoat Mark Fuhrman or make this a valentine to him. (The movie) shows his faults as well as the virtues of this man trying to get past something very horrific in his life," McLoughlin said.
Fuhrman was labeled a racist and convicted of perjury during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He wrote a book on the Simpson case and decided to look into the Moxley murder at the urging of author Dominick Dunne, who wrote a novel based on the case.
Robert Forster of the film "Jackie Brown" fame portrays veteran Greenwich police Detective Steve Carroll. Carroll, who died of cancer in December, investigated the Moxley murder for years.
The names of some of the people involved in the Moxley case -- including Skakel tutor and one-time murder suspect Kenneth Littleton -- have been changed in the movie.
"Murder in Greenwich" was shot in New Zealand, but McLoughlin said he tried to make it resemble Greenwich. The movie was shot in July and August, winter in New Zealand, he said, so making it look like autumn in Connecticut presented challenges.
Leaves were painted in autumnal colors and spread on lawns and on sides of streets, McLoughlin said.
"Greenwich is absolutely gorgeous in the fall. I wanted to play that up against what happened there," he said.
When Fuhrman's character drives through town, the trademark white-gloved police officer is shown directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue. Fuhrman and his assistant later visit a downtown bar. After taking in the sea of businessmen, the assistant remarks that it appears as if they have stepped into a Brooks Brothers advertisement.
McLoughlin said the film crew watched the news documentary "Murder in Greenwich" several times to capture the town's flavor.
Though the movie takes place in two time periods, McLoughlin wanted to show the town hasn't changed much since Moxley's death.
"Mark Fuhrman comes back into an environment that is very similar to the one Martha lived in. It still looks like heaven," McLoughlin said.
The soundtrack was important, McLoughlin said. He selected songs Moxley would have listened to in 1975. He hopes to get the rights to include the Elton John song "Someone Save My Life Tonight."
"According to everything I've read, she and her friends loved Elton John, and 1975 was his big year," the director said. "I want to use that song . . . to honor Martha."
The movie has created controversy with the prosecutor who put Skakel behind bars.
State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said the movie credits Fuhrman with bringing Skakel to justice. But Benedict said he decided to convene a grand jury to look into the case months before Fuhrman's book was published.
Others have criticized Fuhrman's book for being based on a report by Sutton Associates, a New York City private detective firm that investigated the case. Dunne gave Fuhrman a copy of the Sutton report.
"Mark's book obviously shook things up to the point where Michael Skakel started writing his own version," McLoughlin said.
Skakel, now 42, is serving 20 years to life in prison. He is appealing the conviction and maintains his innocence.
"I'm still shocked that Michael was convicted. I didn't think there was enough evidence to convict him," McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin hopes Moxley's mother, Dorthy, is pleased with the movie. The director said he wanted to portray Dorthy Moxley, played by New Zealand actress Liddy Holloway, as a mother who wanted justice for the daughter she loved.
McLoughlin's films include "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives," "Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back," and "The Unsaid." He also directed the Emmy-nominated miniseries "In a Child's Name," the highest-rated miniseries in 1991.
He is most proud of "Murder in Greenwich," McLoughlin said.
The movie will air at 8 and 10 p.m. Nov. 15.
More information is available at www.usanetwork.com.