"Skakel Sr. Hearing Set for Monday in Fla.;
Stay Sought on Order to Testify"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer Greenwich Time

A prosecutor in Florida has accused the father of two suspects in the 1975 martha Moxley murder of hindering the Connecticut grand jury investigation of the Greenwich girl's death.

Assistant State's Attorney Robert Belanger made the charge in a brief filed in advance of Monday's scheduled hearing in which Rushton Skakel Sr. will seek a stay of a judge's order that he travel from his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., to appear before the grand jury on Dec. 11.

The stay is being sought because Skakel plans to appeal the Florida judge's order, according to Skakel's lawyer, West Palm Beach attorney Richard Lubin. In his brief filed last month in Martin County Circuit Court of Florida, Belanger charges that Skakel is using delay tactics, noting that Skakel continues to fight a Connecticut subpoena even after the Florida judge ordered him to obey it. Skakel refused to comply with the subpoena that had ordered him to appear before the grand jury on Sept. 21, but on Nov. 10 the subpoena was upheld by Martin County judge John Fennelly.

"It would not be unreasonable to suggest a pattern of dilatory tactics in an effort to avoid testifying in Connecticut," Belanger's brief states. In documents filed with the Florida court, Connecticut prosecutors say Skakel is needed as a material witness because he attended a meeting at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Maine during which his son, Michael, allegedly confessed to the Moxley murder. The other suspect in the 15-year-old girl's homicide is Michael's older brother, Thomas. Police have said the then-teenaged brothers, who lived across the street from the victim, were with Moxley the night she was killed, and that the murder weapon was a 6-iron from a set of golf clubs owned by the Moxley family.

In a Nov. 23 brief responding to Belanger's accusation of the delaying tactics, Lubin argues that a stay on Fennelly's order for his client would not "prejudice" either Skakel or the grand jury investigation, noting that Connecticut State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict "has just recently announced that he has requested a six-month extension for the grand jury." The grand jury was convened in June, and its initial six-month mandate expires this month. If Benedict's application is granted, the probe would be allowed to continue through June 1999.

Prosecutors had planned to wrap up the investigation by the end of this year, but their work has been delayed by court battles initiated by Skakel and other reluctant witnesses.

Skakel's attorney unsuccessfully argued during an Oct. 16 hearing in Florida that his client should not be made to testify because failing physical and mental health render Skakel incompetent as a witness.

But in his ruling, Fennelly stated that the testimony of several witnesses called to the stand by Lubin - including Skakel's wife, priest, maid and physicians - failed to prove that Skakel is incompetent. The judge noted that he never had the chance to observe the elder Skakel's "ability to observe and recollect facts" because he was not called as a witness on his own behalf. Fennelly further stated the seriousness of the crime being investigated outweighs any hardship the witness might endure, noting that Connecticut authorities allege in two affidavits that Skakel "has made a statement indicating his knowledge of the perpetrator."

An appeal of Fennelly's ruling had not been filed as of Friday.