Prosecutors have been investigating reports that suspect Michael Skakel "made admissions" about the murder while attending a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility a few years after the murder, and several former residents and staff members of the Elan School have appeared before the grand jury probing the 23- year-old homicide.
Attorneys representing Skakel and the rehabilitation facility in Poland Spring, Maine, claim anything said at Elan School is legally protected confidential information because the facility provided therapy overseen by a licensed psychiatrist.
The sixth and possibly final day of a hearing concerning the claim of physician- patient privilege, which began last month, is scheduled Tuesday. Judge Edward Stodolink, who has presided over the open-court hearing, has indicated his ruling would shortly follow the proceeding's conclusion.
Investigators working on the Moxley murder have said for years it would probably take a confession to solve the mostly circumstantial case, and should Stodolink rule that information obtained from Elan School witnesses is privileged, it could prove a major hurdle for prosecutors because the grand jury would be ordered to disregard any testimony it heard concerning Skakel's alleged statements. Because the grand jury operates in secrecy and witnesses who have appeared have been ordered not to discuss their testimony, it is unknown what the probe has unearthed about what Skakel may have said at Elan. And Elan School owner Joseph Ricci, who has refused to answer the grand jury's questions because of the privileged communications claim, has declared in interviews that a Skakel confession never happened.
But in an affidavit filed by Connecticut authorities in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Maine, in September - in a successful bid to have Ricci ordered to appear before the grand jury in Bridgeport - State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict states: "To date, (I) have been informed by several former residents of Elan that Joseph Ricci was present and overheard Michael Skakel make admissions as to the murder of Martha Moxley; that said admissions were made by Michael Skakel in response to being confronted by Mr. Ricci and other Elan staff members as to Skakel's involvement in the matter." During much of the past two decades, the murder investigation had apparently focused on a then-23- year-old tutor, Kenneth Littleton, who moved into the Skakel house the night Moxley was slain on Oct. 30, 1975, with a golf club that police said was owned by the Skakel family. Littleton was given immunity from prosecution in return for his grand jury testimony on Aug. 4. To a lesser extent, detectives suspected Michael Skakel's older brother, then-17-year-old Thomas.
But state Inspector Frank Garr, a retired Greenwich police detective and Benedict's lead investigator on the Moxley case, said because both Skakel brothers had been with Moxley just prior to her murder, he had always believed the investigation needed a clearer understanding of the then-15-year-old Skakel's activities.
"I always believed, even back in the late 1980s, that Michael was more involved in this than anyone believed, but that there wasn't enough known about him and his actions on that evening (of the murder), and that was something that had to be looked into," Garr said earlier this month. "Given the opportunity, and when we started the (1991) reinvestigation, I took it upon myself to do just that, and that included taking a look at Michael's stay at Elan, but I got no cooperation from the school whatsoever."
A possible break came in February 1996, when the "Unsolved Mysteries" true-crime television program aired a segment on the Moxley case, eliciting a call to the show's "tip line" from a man claiming to have learned of a confession by Skakel while at the rehab center. An "Unsolved Mysteries" internal report on that call, obtained last month by Greenwich Time, reads as follows:
"Caller said that Michael was at Elan in Poland Spring in the mid-1970s, and a man named Joe Ricci was the executive director and Michael admitted to the people there that he did it with a golf club. .
"Caller said that Ricci has this on tape. Caller said that Michael told a lot of people there about this. . Michael said he did it because he was drunk. He told them this in group therapy. .
"Michael did not say specific things about the golf club. He said that he would often have drunken blackouts. . "
Court officials last week acknowledged that the call, made by a man identifying himself as Phil Lawrence, played a key role in the Moxley probe.
"The call was a legitimate call," said one official, who asked to not be identified. "It was useful to the investigation.
In an interview Tuesday, Ricci confirmed that someone named Phil Lawrence had been a resident of his rehab facility at the time the tipster claimed to be there. "He showed up in 1976, left in 1978, returned in 1979 and left in 1980," Ricci said, declining to give additional information about Lawrence because of the doctor-patient privilege claim.
Ricci refuted allegations made by the caller that Skakel confessed to the Moxley murder at Elan School. "I don't care how many people they drag out of the woodwork, because the bottom line is if there was a murder exposed at my school I would have been notified about it two minutes afterward," Ricci said.
Garr refused comment on whether the caller had been interviewed for the homicide investigation or has testified before the grand jury.
Skakel's defense lawyer, Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, similarly disputed the "Unsolved Mysteries" tipster's information. "Michael categorically denies ever saying anything of that nature," Sherman said. "Bring this witness before us to allow us to get behind this call to a tabloid television show and we might resolve this situation."