The murder case against Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel will proceed, a judge ruled Friday, despite credibility questions about a key witness who admitted to recent heroin use.
Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. said evidence presented by the prosecution Wednesday and Thursday shows a reasonable person could suspect that Skakel beat Greenwich teen-ager Martha Moxley to death with a golf club in 1975.
"These facts, when they are examined not alone but together, provide probable cause (to believe) that the crime of murder has been committed and that the defendant committed it," Kavanewsky said.
Kavanewsky said probable cause a relatively low standard of proof exceeds "mere suspicion, but is substantially less than what is required for conviction."
The probable cause ruling came despite the admission by a prosecution witness Gregory Coleman that he had used heroin before telling a one-judge grand jury that Skakel had confessed and also used heroin earlier this week.
Kavanewsky did not mention Coleman's heroin problem but noted that testimony about Skakel's alleged admissions came from two witnesses, Coleman and a second former schoolmate of Skakel's, and they were similar in some respects. Other evidence cited by the judge included allegations that Skakel had a romantic interest in Moxley and the fact that that a golf club of the same make to the murder weapon was found in the Skakel home.
Skakel, 40, is accused of beating Moxley to death on her wealthy family's estate. Skakel and Moxley were both 15 at the time. Skakel is the son of Rushton Skakel, the brother of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
Kavanewsky rejected a request by Michael Sherman, Skakel's lawyer, to present three witnesses to rebut prosecution testimony. The judge said he didn't think the proposed testimony would overturn the probable cause finding.
Skakel, rising as the charge of murder was read, said, "I am not guilty." The judge did not set a trial date. Both sides have until May 21 to file legal motions.
Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother, said she was overwhelmed by the decision, calling it "truly like a miracle. We've advanced one more step."
While admitting the drug use, Coleman did not recant his allegation that Skakel confessed while they were both students at the Elan School, an addiction treatment center in Poland Spring, Maine.
Coleman said Skakel told him: "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."
On Thursday, another former Elan classmate, John Higgins, 38, testified that Skakel made a tearful confession on the front porch of a dormitory while the two served as night guards.
Martha was killed Oct. 30, 1975. She had visited the Skakel home along with several other teen-agers after a night of pre-Halloween pranks with shaving cream and toilet paper. 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.
Bot Michael Skakel and his older brother Thomas, then 17, were considered possible suspects, along with others, including a tutor who had moved into the Skakel house the day of the killing. The Skakel family stopped cooperating with police in 1976.
No arrests were made for more than 24 years, frustrating police and raising suspicions of a Kennedy cover-up. Investigators got their big break in 1998-99, when Superior Court Judge George Thim, serving as a one-man grand jury, heard testimony from dozens of witnesses. He issued his report in January 2000 and Skakel was arrested.
Skakel was originally arraigned as a juvenile. A juvenile court judge ruled that Skakel should be tried as an adult and also found that cause existed to try Skakel.
A second probable cause hearing was required after the case was transferred to adult court.
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