"Skakel Roommate Recalls Life in Rehab Center;
Harry Kranick Expects to Summoned by
Grand Jury for Third Time"
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Greenwich Time
Harry Kranick apparently has things to say that are of great interest to the
grand jury investigating the 1975 murder of Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley.
Now a 38-year-old Illinois cosmetics accessories manufacturer, Kranick says he
spent about a year as murder suspect Michael Skakel's roommate at a substance
abuse rehabilitation center in Maine where, prosecutors allege, Skakel made
incriminating statements about the murder of his then-15-year-old neighbor.
Kranick, who has appeared twice before the grand jury since it was convened in
June, has been warned by prosecutors not to publicly discuss his testimony. In
an interview with Greenwich Time last week, Kranick would not divulge what he
has told the grand jury, but he did discuss how he had been in a unique position
to hear things that could be of interest in the Moxley investigation. That is
probably why, Kranick said, he was notified by prosecutors that he will be
called on to testify for a third time. "I was pretty close to Michael, and we
followed our relationship for years after we got out of the (recovery) program,"
Skakel's lawyer, Michael Sherman, said yesterday it would be inappropriate for
his client to respond to Kranick's remarks, "even if it is through me. Michael's
response will come at an appropriate time." Sherman, who was vacationing
yesterday in Aspen, Colo., said he had several problems with Kranick's comments.
"To my knowledge, Michael never bared his soul to this young man. Most
obviously, if he has been a witness twice before the grand jury and expects
there to be a third time, one has to question the propriety of him allowing
himself to be interviewed. Grand jury witnesses have no business being
interviewed by the press. I think it casts a bit of a cloud over his motives
here." About Kranick's claimed relationship with his client, the attorney said,
"To my knowledge they were both patients at Elan at the same time, and I am not
going beyond that."
Prosecutors said they could neither confirm or deny that Kranick had appeared
before the grand jury, which operates in secrecy, or that he will be asked to
testify in the future. But those same prosecutors already have called on Kranick
as a witness in open court, soliciting testimony concerning his stay with Skakel
at Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine. Prior to Kranick's court appearance,
prosecutors stated in court documents that they had been informed by several
former Elan School residents that Skakel made "admissions as to the murder of
Martha Moxley" during his stay at the rehab center from 1978 to 1980.
According to police, Michael Skakel and his brother, Thomas, then 15 and 17
years old, respectively, were both with Moxley prior to her murder the evening
of Oct. 30, 1975. Police said the murder weapon was a 6-iron from a set of golf
clubs owned by the brothers' late mother, Ann Skakel. The Skakel brothers remain
the only identified suspects in the murder, and lawyers for both have maintained
their clients are innocent.
What brought Kranick into an open courtroom was the refusal in September by Elan
School owner Joseph Ricci to answer grand jury questions about Skakel's alleged
admissions regarding the murder on the grounds that anything said by his
facility's residents was confidential and protected by doctor-patient privilege.
A public hearing on Ricci's claim was conducted when State's Attorney Jonathan
Benedict, who is assisting the grand jury, made an application to the court to
have Ricci's testimony compelled by a judge.
During a subsequent hearing lasting seven days, Kranick and several other former
Elan School residents and staff members were called by Benedict to prove no
privilege existed because therapy at the rehab center was overseen by recovered
substance abusers and not provided under the direct supervision of a
psychiatrist or other licensed physician.
One such witness, former resident Chuck Seigan, testified Nov. 4 that he was
present at a 1978 "general meeting" of Elan School residents that had been
convened by Ricci to chastise Skakel for having escaped from the facility and
that a murder was discussed during that meeting. Kranick testified the following
day that he also had been at that meeting, but prosecutors did not question him
about the meeting's content as it is widely assumed they have in the sealed
grand jury room.
Superior Court Judge Edward Stodolink ruled Dec. 10 that the Elan School
testimony was not privileged and could be considered as evidence by the grand
jury. He also ordered Ricci to answer the grand jury's questions. Attorneys
representing Skakel, the rehab center and its owner have appealed the judge's
Owner of Highland Park, Ill.-based Great Lakes Bag and Vinyl since 1989, Kranick
said after entering Elan School for emotional and drug abuse problems, he became
friends with Skakel while sharing a double bunk bed in a private room with him
for about a year. Kranick, son of a Burlington Industries vice president, said
he and Skakel hit it off upon learning they shared a lot in common.
Skakel's grandfather, George Skakel, founded Great Lakes Carbon Corp. in 1919
with Rushton Fordyce and Walter Gramm. Kranick said a good friend of his while
growing up in Winnetka, Ill., was Walter Gramm's grandson, Chris Gramm. "Our
upbringing was very similar," Kranick said. "Winnetka is like a safe haven, very
similar to Belle Haven," the exclusive Greenwich neighborhood where Skakel grew
Kranick said he and Skakel also had experienced the loss of a parent prior to
entering the Maine rehab center. "I suffered an emotional breakdown after my
father died of cancer," Kranick said, which led to heavy drug use and subsequent
admissions to treatment programs, including Elan School. "A big issue with Mike
was his mom dying, and it was a recurring theme in many of the meetings and
groups at Elan. There were a number of times he broke down."
Skakel was 13 when his mother died of cancer in 1973. According to police
reports and court documents, Skakel was admitted to Elan School for emotional
and alcohol abuse problems after a drunken driving incident in Windham, N.Y., in
which he tried running down a police officer before crashing his car. Kranick's
18-month stint at Elan School lasted from 1977 to 1979, and he said after
Skakel's arrival in March 1978, their friendship was cemented by their similar
experiences. "It was a difficult time for both of us, but more so for Michael,"
Kranick said. "I knew how to work the program, and he didn't. I think he looked
at it more as a joke."
Elan School's therapy relied heavily on peer pressure techniques, and it offered
residents a variety of different group meetings, according to court testimony.
It also conducted encounter sessions with family members to help them better
understand residents' problems. Kranick said Skakel asked him to sit in on one
such encounter, which included Ricci; Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel Sr.; and
attorney Thomas Sheridan. "At Elan, I probably sat in on more groups with
Michael than anyone because we were close," Kranick said. "In this particular
meeting, his dad didn't say very much, was very stone-faced, sitting next to the
attorney, across from me and Michael."
In addition to Ricci, Skakel Sr. and Sheridan have been summoned by the grand
jury. And like Ricci, all are fighting their subpoenas. Prosecutors allege in
court documents that not only did Ricci confront Skakel with his admissions to
the Moxley murder, he did so during a meeting attended by Rushton Skakel Sr.
Kranick said he was unable to discuss whether he had been at that meeting.
Soon after Skakel left Elan School in 1980, Kranick said, Skakel contacted
Kranick to tell him of his plans to write a book exposing abusive treatment he
claimed took place at the rehab center, where residents who broke the rules were
paddled, thrown into a boxing ring and subjected to other forms of demeaning
punishment. "That's one of the reasons Michael contacted me after Elan, saying
he wanted to expose the brutality of the program," Kranick said.
During the hearing on the privilege claim, Harry Overend, Elan School's
residential director from 1976 to 1980, said paddling was used as a means of
applying peer pressure to rein in unacceptable behavior and that parental
permission was required before residents could don boxing gloves. "It was done
to set an example of (forbidden) behavior and to curb aggression by the
residents," Overend testified on Dec. 1.
Skakel and Kranick's friendship continued for several years after leaving Elan
School, and Kranick said they got together whenever he went to New York. "Mike,
above and beyond what might be going on, was a great guy," Kranick said. "When
we'd meet up with friends in Manhattan, we would often go to the University Club
and he'd pay for everything. He was a fun guy to be around."
The friendship ended in 1986, Kranick said, because of a falling out over a
personal matter. "We went our own ways after that," he said.