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Skakel Guilty Of Murder

A Connecticut jury Friday convicted Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel of beating Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley to death in 1975 when they were both 15 years old.

Skakel, the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, could get anywhere from 10 years to life in prison for murder. The jury deliberated for more than three days.

The case opened a window onto a world of privilege and raised suspicions that his family ties had protected him over the years.

Skakel, 41, slumped slightly as the verdict was read, then straightened. With his lawyer's hand on his shoulder, he looked at the jury and then at the courtroom audience with a look of surprise and appeared on the verge of tears.

Members of the Skakel and Moxley families sighed heavily upon hearing the verdict. Courtroom officers immediately ordered silence.

Martha's mother, Dorthy, and brother, John, wept and hugged prosecutor Jonathan Benedict. "Isn't it wonderful?" Mrs. Moxley said.

"It's bittersweet," John Moxley said. "It's a hollow victory."

Judge John F. Kavanewsky asked Skakel's lawyer if he wanted to say anything. The lawyer said no. Then Skakel said he would like to speak.

"No, sir," the judge said firmly.

Sentencing was set for July 19.

Skakel was put in handcuffs while still in the courtroom.

Martha's battered body was discovered under a tree on her family's estate in the gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven. She had been bludgeoned with a golf club — later traced to a set owned by Skakel's mother — and stabbed in the neck with the shaft of the club.

According to testimony, Skakel had a crush on Martha and got upset because his attractive blond neighbor seemed more interested in his older brother, Thomas, an early suspect in the slaying.

Prosecutors had a 27-year-old case with no eyewitnesses and no forensic evidence such as DNA that could directly connect Skakel to the slaying.

Instead, the case was based almost entirely on people who said they had heard Skakel confess over the years. Among them were several former classmates of Skakel's from the Elan School, a drug and alcohol rehab center for rich kids in Poland Spring, Maine.

For more than two decades, the case had gone unsolved, stirring speculation that wealth and the Kennedy connection had protected the Skakel family. But after a flurry of books about the case in the 1990s, including works by former Los Angeles Detective Mark Furhman and crime writer Dominick Dunne, a one-judge grand jury investigated and Skakel was arrested.

By then, Skakel had been transformed from the lanky athlete of his teen-age years into a pudgy, divorced father battling alcoholism.

The case followed a twisted legal path from there to the courtroom. Skakel unsuccessfully fought to be tried as a juvenile — which could have meant no punishment at all, because Connecticut has no juvenile facility in which to lock up a middle-aged man.

One of the prosecution witnesses from the Elan School, Gregory Coleman, was dead of heroin use by the time Skakel's trial began. But prosecutors were permitted to read Coleman's pretrial testimony into the record, including an allegation that Skakel once told him: "I'm going to get away with murder, because I'm a Kennedy."

The defense argued that Elan students were berated and beaten until they told administrators what they wanted to hear, an atmosphere that contributed to Skakel's purported confession.

Skakel's lawyers also repeatedly reminded the jury that Thomas Skakel and former Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton were longtime suspects. They also said Skakel was visiting a cousin in another part of Greenwich at the time of Martha's death.

Dorthy Moxley, who had waged a determined campaign for justice, was a dignified fixture during the two-month trial. Even defense lawyers acknowledged the weight of her presence, asking potential jurors if they could acquit Skakel knowing it would bring her pain.

The trial opened a window on a privileged world where adult supervision of the teen-age Skakels was often limited to nannies, gardeners and cooks. Skakel's mother had died in 1973; his father was on a hunting trip the night of the murder.

That night — the night before Halloween, often called "Mischief Night" — was described by witnesses as chaotic, with teen-agers darting around the dimly lit Greenwich estates.

Witnesses, including Skakel's siblings, said he and several others had gone to a cousin's home in another part of Greenwich, where they smoked marijuana and watched "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

But prosecutors used Skakel's own words to place him on the Moxley property that night.

They played a tape of Skakel telling an author in 1997 that after he returned home from his cousin's house, he went to the Moxley estate, thinking: "Martha likes me. I'll go get a kiss from Martha. I'll be bold tonight."

He said he climbed a tree and threw sticks and rocks at Martha's window and yelled her name. He said he then masturbated in the tree, climbed down and started for home. He said something told him to avoid a dark area on the Moxley property.

"I remember yelling, `Who's in there?"' Skakel said. He said he threw some rocks into the darkness, then ran.

Years later, a witness testified, Skakel recalled seeing his brother Thomas on the property that night. Other witnesses recalled tension between the brothers, and jurors were shown a shoe Martha was wearing the night of her death. The word "Tom" was written on it.

Skakel did not testify, and his attorney said the tape of his client was enough to show jurors his client wasn't guilty.

Also on the tape, Skakel said he learned from Martha's mother that she was missing. "And I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, if I tell anybody that I was out that night, they're going to say I did it,'" Skakel said.

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