BRIDGEPORT - An Illinois man who underwent substance abuse rehabilitation with Michael Skakel, a Martha Moxley murder suspect, yesterday testified that a murder was discussed during a special meeting about Skakel's 1978 escape from the Maine rehabilitation facility.
The testimony came during the third day of a hearing in which prosecutors are seeking to have a judge compel testimony from the rehab center's owner before a grand jury probing the 1975 murder. Prosecutors allege the facility owner heard Skakel confess to murdering his 15-year-old Greenwich neighbor.
Over an objection by one of Skakel's attorneys, Superior Court Judge Edward F. Stodolink would not allow 41-year-old Evanston, Ill., resident Chuck Seigan to answer a question about whether Skakel was involved with the murder that was discussed during the 1978 meeting at Elan School, a facility for youths with substance abuse and behavioral problems in Poland Spring, Maine. Defense Attorney Michael Sherman argued that any answer would violate the same doctor- patient privilege that Elan School owner Joseph Ricci has cited in his refusal to testify before the grand jury about Skakel's alleged confession. Ricci testified in open court last month that his facility's therapy program was overseen by a psychiatrist, and that its residents believed anything they said at the facility would remain confidential.
Prompting Sherman's objection was State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict's question to Seigan: "Were you ever in attendance of a group session with Michael Skakel where his involvement in a murder was discussed?"
The objection prompted a half-hour meeting in Stodolink's chambers between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Upon returning to the open courtroom, Benedict elicited additional testimony from Seigan about the general meetings of Elan School residents. Seigan, who described himself in court as an actor and telemarketer who went to Elan School for an amphetamine addiction, described the Elan School of 1978 as a highly regimented boot camp, primarily for teens with drug, alcohol or behavioral problems. The witness described the meetings as a form of punishment, in which those who either escaped or broke the facility's "three cardinal rules" forbidding sex, drug or alcohol use, and engaging in violence suffered humiliation in front of fellow residents.
"It was pretty intimidating," Seigan said of the meetings, in which residents were made to look straight ahead at the dining room tables with their hands folded as the offender was "offered up to the gods of therapy."
"What was (Skakel's) reported crime?" Benedict asked the witness. "He ran away," Seigan replied. "Do you recall Joe Ricci putting to Michael Skakel the subject of his involvement in a murder?" the prosecutor asked, prompting additional objections from Skakel's and Ricci's lawyers, which Stodolink sustained. Prompted by further questioning, Seigan told how during the meeting, Ricci confronted Skakel with personal problems that led up to Skakel's stay at Elan School.
"What was the subject?" the prosecutor asked. "(Ricci) addressed one of the reasons why (Skakel) was there," Seigan replied. When asked by Benedict to be more specific, the witness replied, "There were many different reasons, but (Ricci) did bring out the fact that there was a murder."
Ricci, who was the only witness during the first two days of the hearing last month, was not in court yesterday. One of his lawyers, Portland, Maine, attorney John Campbell, said in an interview after the proceeding that Seigan's testimony did nothing to discredit his client. "Mr. Ricci has said he knew nothing about any admission to a murder, and nothing to the contrary was said today," Campbell said.
Michael Skakel and his brother, Thomas, who in 1975 were 15 and 17 years old, respectively, are the only two suspects in the Oct. 30, 1975 murder. They lived across the street from Moxley at the time, and both were with the victim the evening of the crime. Police said the weapon used to bludgeon and stab Moxley was a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Skakel family. No one has ever been charged in the killing, and attorneys for both brothers have maintained their clients' innocence.
According to court documents and previous testimony, Michael Skakel was admitted to Elan School three years after the murder, following his involvement in a drunken-driving accident in Windham, N.Y.
Since convening in July, the grand jury has heard from nearly 40 witnesses. Until yesterday, it had not heard additional testimony since Michael Skakel's boyhood best friend appeared Sept. 23. While Seigan testified in open court on the fifth floor of the Fairfield County Courthouse, the grand jury was in session two floors below to take additional testimony from a witness who had previously appeared. Prosecutors would not identify the witness but sources said it was a woman who had been at Elan School while Skakel was there. Attending yesterday's proceeding were the murder victim's mother, Dorthy Moxley, and brother, John.
The hearing to compel Ricci's grand jury testimony is to resume this morning, with the prosecution expected to question additional witnesses who were at Elan School when Michael Skakel was there.