Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is guilty of murder in the 1975 bludgeoning death of his teenage neighbor, Martha Moxley, a jury decided today.
Jurors in Superior Court in Norwalk, Conn., deliberated for more than three days before reaching their decision.
Skakel, 41, will be sentenced on July 19. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life. Skakel's lawyer, Mickey Sherman, has said he would appeal.
Moxley's battered body was found in the early hours of Oct. 31, 1975, on her family's estate in an affluent neighborhood in Greenwich, Conn. Police said the 15-year-old was bludgeoned to death with a golf club from the Skakel home, next door to the Moxley house.
Skakel slumped as the verdict was read and glanced with surprise at the jury and then at the courtroom audience, according to press accounts from the courtroom.
Members of both the Moxley and the Skakel families let out heavy sighs, but were silenced by court marshals. Skakel was handcuffed while still in the courtroom and was led to a prison van that took him to a jail in Bridgeport, Conn.
There, Skakel was expected to be photographed and fingerprinted.
Prosecutors led by Jonathan Benedict said Skakel, who was also 15 at the time of the murder, had been competing with his older brother, Thomas, for Moxley's affections. They alleged that Michael beat the girl to death when she rejected his sexual advances.
Skakel, who did not take the stand during the trial, has said he had nothing to do with the crime. His defense argued that he was at a cousin's house in another part of Greenwich around the time of the slaying. Skakel relatives testified that Michael was with them in a car that left the Skakel home about 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.
Michael Skakel is the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.
The verdict is an emotional victory for the Moxley family, especially Martha's mother, Dorthy, who campaigned tirelessly for justice for her daughter.
Emotional Day for Family Members
After the verdict was read, Dorthy Moxley told reporters she woke up this morning and said a prayer for her daughter. "My prayer started out, 'Dear Lord, again today like I've been doing for 27 years, I'm praying I can find justice for Martha,' " she said. "This whole thing was about Martha … This is Martha's day."
John Moxley, Martha's brother, said the victory, while satisfying, was "hollow."
"It doesn't bring Martha back," he said.
David Skakel, Michael's younger brother, expressed disappointment at the verdict but said his family was resolute in vindicating his brother. In a prepared statement, he called the trial a "witch hunt."
"You may want finality to this tragedy and our family wants the same as much as anyone, but truth is more important than closure," he said. "We only know who did not do this."
Convicted By His Own Words
For his part, Sherman said he would continue his legal fight for Skakel. "As long as there is a breath in my body, this case is not over."
Sherman said the prosecution's case was flimsy, and the jury's decision was based on a desire to find vengeance for the Moxley family.
Triumphant prosecutors, who presented evidence that Skakel had confessed to the killing to former classmates, said Skakel's own words were the most convincing evidence against him. "He really hung himself on his own petard, so to speak," Benedict said.
During closing arguments earlier this week, Benedict played a tape of an interview Skakel gave an author in 1997, and argued that Skakel admitted to being at the crime scene. On the tape, Skakel said he feared what he "was going to bed with" on the night Moxley was killed. Benedict suggested to jurors that Skakel went to sleep that night fearing that others would find out he killed Moxley.
"I remember just having a feeling of panic, like, ?Oh [expletive].' You know, like my worry of what I went to bed with. … I had a feeling of panic," Skakel said on the tape. "And then I woke up to Mrs. Moxley saying, 'Michael, have you seen Martha?' I'm like, 'What?' I was, like, still high from the night before, a little drunk. … Then I was like, 'What?' I was like, 'Oh my God. Did they see me last night?'"
Jurors left the courtroom with no comment.
Relying on Old Memories
Because of the time that had passed since the slaying and the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors had to rely largely on circumstantial evidence. Over the course of 27 years, some evidence was not preserved, potential witnesses died and the memories of living witnesses were open for challenge.
The case attracted a great deal of attention over the years and inspired three books — including works by former Los Angeles police Detective Mark Furhman of O.J. Simpson trial fame and crime writer Dominick Dunne. Part of the case's appeal stemmed from the Skakel connection to the Kennedy family.
Long suspected, Skakel always denied his involvement in Moxley's slaying. Investigators initially looked at his brother Thomas, who had been the last person seen with Moxley before her death, and Kenneth Littleton, the Skakels' live-in tutor. But these two were ruled out as suspects, and authorities began focusing on Michael Skakel.
Members of Moxley's family had lobbied police for years to push on with their investigation. Still, it was not until January 2000 that Skakel was arrested, after a one-judge grand jury decided there was enough evidence to indict him.
In making their case, prosecutors had to rely on the memories of Skakel's former classmates at the Elan School in Maine, a residential substance abuse center for teens.
Several said they remember hearing a troubled Skakel confess to killing Moxley or say he thought he might have killed her. Sherman challenged the memories of these witnesses, questioning their motives and their reasons for waiting so long to come forward with information.
Skakel's Sister Took Stand
The defense also argued that the prosecution had no evidence linking Skakel to the killing and noted that prosecutors did not focus on a specific timeline of death for Moxley and kept the window of time for the killing open.
Dr. Henry Lee, a renowned forensic scientist who testified in the O.J. Simpson trial, said during defense cross-examination that there was no direct evidence linking Skakel to the crime, but said there was indirect evidence.
Prosecutors attempted to discredit Skakel's alibi, even calling his only sister as a prosecution rebuttal witness. Julie Skakel testified that she was preparing to drive a friend home at about 9:30 p.m. on the night of Moxley's death when she saw a figure running across her family's property.
Julie said she first thought it was Michael and she called out his name, but she said the figure did not respond and now she doesn't believe it was her brother.
Julie's friend, Andrea Shakespeare Renna, testified that she was sure that Michael was not among the group of people that left to visit his cousin's home in another part of Greenwich. During cross-examination, the defense tried to make the point that she seemed less certain in earlier statements.
The defense had sought to have Skakel prosecuted as a juvenile because he was 15 at the time of the slaying, but a judge ruled he should be tried as an adult. The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld that decision.