By Thomas Mellana, Staff Writer
A grand jury investigating the murder of Martha Moxley cannot contemplate testimony of employees at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center where a suspect was once a patient.
But a court ruling released yesterday does allow the jury to consider claims made by other patients who were at the center with Michael Skakel, the former Greenwich resident considered a main suspect in the 1975 murder.
A grand jury that has been investigating the slaying for nearly 18 months is to conclude its probe next month. Its work could lead to an arrest in the killing that has gone unsolved for 24 years.
The court decision, released yesterday by Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink, broadens an earlier decision by the state Appellate Court, which ruled in August that testimony of the headmaster of the rehabilitation center was not admissible.
But Stodolink did not say all statements Skakel may have made while at the Elan School rehab center were protected. The judge ruled the testimonies of Skakel's bunkmate and other residents are not protected under state law.
Prosecutors have said Skakel made incriminating statements about Moxley's death while a resident of Elan from 1978 to 1980. Several former staff members and residents of the Maine facility, including Skakel's former bunkmate, have testified before the grand jury since it began investigating the murder in 1998.
Skakel's lawyer, who called the decision an "unqualified win," yesterday said he is not worried about what fellow residents may have said.
"I don't believe he confessed to any crime to anyone, be it patient or staff," said Michael Sherman of Stamford.
He said he fought the disclosures, including records by Elan staff, "because it was wrong. Both sides have to play by the same rules."
An official in Bridgeport State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict's office said yesterday the office had no comment at this time on the decision.
Fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley's body was found beneath a tree in the yard of her Belle Haven home on Oct. 31, 1975. Police say Michael Skakel and his brother Thomas, then 15 and 17, respectively, were both with Martha the night she was killed with a golf club matching a set owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street from the Moxleys.
During the 18 months since it was appointed, the one-man grand jury, composed of Judge George Thim, has questioned dozens of witnesses, more than 50 in the first year alone.
They have included Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy; police officers who were first on the murder scene; a private investigator once hired by the Skakel family; the former live-in tutor of the Skakel children, who was removed as a suspect last year; and Rushton Skakel Sr., Michael's and Thomas' father.
According to state statue, the single-judge investigatory grand jury has six months from its appointment - in this case June 1998 - to determine whether probable cause exists for an arrest. The two extensions allowed by law already have been granted in this case.
The grand jury is expected to be seated until mid-December, but an exact date has not been disclosed due to secrecy laws.