- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. A nephew of Robert F. Kennedy was charged yesterday with bludgeoning a girl to death with a golf club in 1975 when he was 15, providing the long-awaited break in a case that frustrated police in wealthy Greenwich and raised suspicions of a Kennedy cover-up.
Michael Skakel, 39, flew to Connecticut from his home in Florida and surrendered at Greenwich police headquarters after a warrant was issued for his arrest in the slaying of Martha Moxley, also 15.
Because of Mr. Skakel's age at the time of the crime, the case will be handled, at least initially, in juvenile court.
"Michael has stated all along he did not do this," said his attorney, Michael Sherman. "He had no knowledge of it. He had no part in it. He is not guilty."
Because Mr. Skakel was a juvenile at the time of the crime, it was not immediately clear yesterday what penalty he could face.
Martha was beaten with a 6-iron and stabbed in the throat with a piece of the club's shattered shaft. The club was quickly matched to a set owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street in Belle Haven, an exclusive gated community in the rich New York suburb of Greenwich.
But the investigation kept hitting dead ends, and police were accused of apathy and ineptitude. A special prosecutor quit partly in frustration over unproved claims there had been payoffs aimed at thwarting the probe. Mr. Skakel's father, Rushton, is the brother of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
As the years went by and no arrests were made, rumors of a Kennedy cover-up circulated in Greenwich. The idea that someone might have gotten away with murder in this community of wealth and privilege made the case the subject of a TV movie and inspired the novel "A Season in Purgatory" by Dominick Dunne in 1993 and the 1998 nonfiction book "Murder in Greenwich," by former Los Angeles Detective Mark Fuhrman.
Investigators got their big break during the past year, when a one-man grand jury heard testimony from former patients at the Elan school, a drug treatment center in Maine that Mr. Skakel attended from 1978 to 1980. Prosecutors filed court documents that said Mr. Skakel admitted killing Martha to fellow students at Elan.
Mr. Skakel returned to his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., after posting $500,000 bond in Greenwich. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charge on Feb. 8.
The case could get stalled in juvenile court for a year or more if Mr. Skakel's attorney fights prosecutors' bid to transfer the case to adult court.
Martha was killed Oct. 30, 1975. She had visited the Skakel home along with several other teens after a night of pre-Halloween pranks. She left, apparently bound for home, but never made it. Her body was found the next afternoon under low-hanging fir trees on her family's property.
Both Michael Skakel and his older brother, Thomas, then 17, were considered possible suspects, along with others, including a tutor who had just moved into the Skakel house the day of the killing. The Skakel family stopped cooperating with police in 1976.
For a long time, authorities focused on Thomas. It was not until years later that they took a second look at Michael, after he changed his story about his movements the night of the killing.
In 1995, in an interview with private investigators hired by his family, Mr. Skakel placed himself near the murder scene about the time of the murder.
In 1998, Mr. Fuhrman, the detective who investigated the O.J. Simpson case but was dogged by accusations of racism, wrote a book that suggested Michael Skakel murdered Martha in a fit of jealousy after seeing Thomas kissing her.
Investigators have dismissed any suggestion that Mr. Fuhrman's book helped them solve the case. Mr. Fuhrman did not return calls yesterday.
A month after Mr. Fuhrman's book was published, Superior Court Judge George Thim was appointed to serve as a one-man grand jury. He interviewed more than 40 witnesses, including Mr. Skakel's former schoolmates in Maine.
In his report, released yesterday, the judge said he found grounds to bring murder charges.
"This is a wonderful day," Martha's mother, Dorothy Moxley, told the Daily Record of Morris County, N.J., while sitting at a dining room table beneath a large painting of her daughter. "I just hope that they find him guilty."
Martha's brother, John Moxley, said he believed police made mistakes in the investigation and showed deference to the Skakels because of the Kennedy connection.
Mr. Skakel's attorney bristled at any suggestion that the family's ties to the Kennedys had any influence on the case.
"It's not a Kennedy trial… . It's not an O.J. trial," Mr. Sherman said. "It's a trial of a young man charged with killing his next-door neighbor."
"If the family didn't have money and if they weren't Kennedys, he would have been caught years ago," said Alba Fox, a town resident.
Mr. Skakel's arrest adds to the long history of legal problems for the Kennedy clan.
In 1969, a Kennedy campaign aide drowned after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick in Massachusetts. In 1991, the senator's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was acquitted of rape in Florida.
During that trial, investigators in Connecticut formally reopened the Moxley case after rumors circulated that Mr. Smith had been at the Skakel home the night of Martha's killing. The rumors were unfounded.

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