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Burden of Proof

1975 Greenwich Murder Case: Nearly 25 Years After Brutal Beating Death of Martha Moxley, Arrest Warrant is Issued

Aired January 19, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOROTHY MOXLEY, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I'm going to be happy, or I'm going to experience whatever it is, I am going to -- you know, the ultimate -- when I can see an indictment, a trial, a conviction.

FRANK GARR, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR: The two biggest obstacles that we've faced from day one of this investigation was, first, a lack of physical evidence, and second, cooperation from the Skakel family.

MICKEY SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S ATTORNEY: If there was evidence pointing to the Skakel family -- it's been 25 years -- they would've had an arrest warrant before now.

MOXLEY: I can't give up. Martha was -- she was very special. I had two children and to lose one was a major, major thing, and I'm just not going to give up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Nearly 25 years after the brutal beating murder of a Connecticut teenager, an arrest warrant is issued. The suspect: a nephew of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

In October of 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was beaten to death with a golf club in her Greenwich, Connecticut neighborhood. Her body was found under a fir tree on her family's front lawn.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Initially, teenagers Michael and Thomas Skakel, who lived across the street, were viewed as possible suspects, but no charges were ever filed. Today, 25 years after the murder, Michael's attorney claims his client, now 39, is returning to Connecticut to surrender.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN BENEDICT, CONNECTICUT STATE'S ATTORNEY: The grand juror, Judge George Thim, released his report, in which he found probable cause and in which he also held there was sufficient evidence for the state to apply for the arrest of a particular individual. Accordingly, my office has secured an arrest warrant for a particular individual. And as I speak, steps are being taken to effect that arrest.

SHERMAN: There will be no plea bargains here. This is a black and white issue. He either did it or he didn't. Michael has stated all along he did not do this. He had no knowledge of it. He had no part in it. He's not guilty. He'll plead not guilty and we'll go from there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Bridgeport, Connecticut is criminal defense attorney David Rosen. And in New York, we're joined by Dominick Dunne, author of "A Season in Purgatory," a novel based on the murder.

COSSACK: And joining us here in Washington: Reena Ramchandani (ph), former federal prosecutor, Steven Berk; and Jennifer Simmons (ph). And in the back: Mimi Brown (ph), Laura Brooks (ph) and Carl Csee (ph).

Let's go right, first, to Dominick Dunne.

Dominick, tell us, who was Martha Moxley?

DOMINICK DUNNE, AUTHOR, "A SEASON IN PURGATORY": Martha Moxley was a 15-year-old girl who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her father was an important executive. Her mother was a housewife. She had a brother. They lived next door to the very, very rich Skakel family. This murder happened on the night before Halloween, and Tommy Skakel was the last one to be seen with her.

I first got interested in this case during the William Kennedy Smith case in Palm Beach. A rumor went around that William Kennedy Smith had been in the Skakel house on the night of this murder. I went up to Greenwich, it turned out not to be true, it was a bum rap for Willy, but it got me interested in this case.

And I got to know Mrs. Moxley. I asked her if I could write a novel based on the case. I, too, am the father of a murdered daughter. I had great sympathy for her, and as a result of that book, the spotlight, it was called "A Season of Purgatory," a spotlight was put back on this case. And the mini series followed.

After people started talking about the case again, Russ Skakel hired a private detective firm in New York called the Sutton Associates. And he made his children available to them in a way that he had never made them available to the Greenwich Police. And when their report was finished, after four years, they said that it was Michael who committed the murder.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do we know Dominick upon what the Sutton Associates based their allegation, and why is it that we're -- if this was retained by the Skakel family, do we have access to this information?

DUNNE: Well, we have access to the information, quite honestly, all of the private detectives had signed confidentiality oaths. But they brought in a kid, a young man out of the University of Virginia who wanted to be a writer, to put all of the interviews with the psychiatrists and all of the police reports in a sort of scenario. And he did not sign the confidentiality oath. And after they told Rushton Skakel, the father, what their findings were, it was the end of the case, it was going to go in the back of the file cabinet, and this kid stole it, and he brought it to me, and he gave it to me.

And I, in turn, was writing something else at time, and I am the one who brought in Mark Fuhrman to the story. I gave him the information. I wrote the introduction to his book, and I believe, as a result of his book, the grand jury came into being.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was the information, though, within the Sutton Associates' file, was that simply statements or was their ever any physical evidence that tied Michael Skakel to this death?

DUNNE: Well, it was mostly statements.

COSSACK: Dominick, why did this case languish so long? Why has it taken so long to get to this day?

DUNNE: Well, because, I mean, it is the old story of the thing that I write about, the rich and the powerful in a criminal situation. I mean things just take a different -- it's just a different way. It's like the Ramseys in Boulder. I mean, they were able to -- the Skakels were able to hold off the police all these years. They always said that, if the police had questions for their children to put it in writing, submit it to a lawyer. If this was a family of lesser stature, that simply would not have happened.

VAN SUSTEREN: And let's remind the viewers for a second that the Ramseys are the family, obviously in Boulder, who have not been indicted because the prosecution apparently felt there is insufficient evidence.

But Dominick, let me ask you, is there any suggestions what would have been the motive in the killing in Connecticut?

DUNNE: Well, I think that is something that Mark Fuhrman came up with in his book, which is very, very interesting, is that there was a rivalry between the two brothers, Tommy and Michael Skakel, for Martha Moxley. And there had been also a great deal of drinking that night.

Only recently, a friend of Michael Skakel's, a great friend of his, life long, told me that Michael had said to him: I was so drunk that night, I don't remember if I killed her or not.

COSSACK: Dominick, in that sense, I mean, that's the kind of evidence that obviously a defense lawyer is going to jump on, this notion of drunkenness, and also this notion of these alleged statements that were made many, many years ago. What is your feeling, in terms of how strong a case this is? DUNNE: You know what, Roger? I mean, this is probably going to shock you. I just want to see this guy indicted. I just want to see this guy with handcuffs on. What happens in the case later, well, we all know what happens in the cases later. They're going to, you know, bring in some very powerful defense attorney. That's not my concern.

My concern is for Mrs. Moxley, the mother, Dorothy Moxley, a fantastic woman, who for 25 years has known in her who the killers were -- who the killer was rather, and I think this is a red-letter day for her that Michael Skakel has been indicted.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dominick, let me ask you, the statements the Sutton Associates have, do you know the nature of them? Are they, you know, I did it, or something is it something less suspicious? What kind of statements are these?

DUNNE: No, it is not an "I did it." But it points very clearly to -- I mean, the early statements that he gave, he -- were not truthful. And he makes a very contradictory statement to what happened earlier.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. Bridgeport Superior Court Judge George Thim acted as a one-man grand jury in gathering evidence in this case. We'll have more on this 25-year investigation when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERMAN: We are still talking about a street crime. This is not an embezzlement. It is not a white-collar crime. It is a murder. It is a street crime. There has got to be evidence. There has got to be confessions. There has to be forensic evidence. There has to be witnesses.

The fact that you have people some 22 years later calling in "Unsolved Mysteries" or other shows saying: You know, I think I remember about 18 years ago I heard somebody say something. I don't know that that's going to measure up to what a jury wants to hear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Financier Martin Frankel, who was arrested last September in Germany for allegedly bilking American investors out of $200 million, was indicted yesterday by German authorities for possessing phony passports. This relatively minor charge will not prevent Frankel from being returned to the U.S. if extradition requests are approved.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log onto www.CNN.com and click your way to the BURDEN OF PROOF link. We now provide a live video feed Monday through Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERMAN: I've always said, totally, I have no criticism of Dorothy Moxley. She's a lovely woman. Her tenacity, her dedication has kept this investigation alive over these years, and I have nothing but admiration for that. She's lost her daughter, she's entitled to think, frankly, and say whatever she wants to, and I have no quarrel with that.

BENEDICT: At the time of the offense in 1975, the individual was over the age of 14 yet under the age of 16. And, therefore, despite his obvious adulthood at this stage, still -- he incurs the protections of our then-current juvenile court rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: On the night of her murder, after an evening of Halloween pranks, Martha Moxley and a group of friends visited the Skakel home.

Dominick, you write about the importance of the Skakel family in Bridgeport. Do you believe that there was political pressure brought to...

DUNNE: Not in Bridgeport.

COSSACK: Excuse me, not in Bridgeport. I'm sorry, I meant in Greenwich. Do you believe there was political pressure brought to sort of postpone this case?

DUNNE: Well, I'm not sure about political pressure, but I think the power of the family. I think that the fact that the Moxley family were the new folks in town. You know, they were not known, they were not established like the Skakel family was, and I think that that played a lot into it. I think there was intimidation, certainly.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, I need an education in Connecticut practice. A one-man grand jury, and it's a judge: Explain this to me.

DAVID ROSEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Connecticut doesn't have the kind of grand jury system that the federal courts have or many if not most of all the other states have. The grand jury is something that's brought into existence only episodically by specific designation of a chief court administrator, and it is a one-person, one-judge grand jury only.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does he bring witnesses into his chambers and talk to them, and it is on the record -- and review documents? Is that the way this is done?

ROSEN: It's done -- they do all of those things, Greta. It's just like other kinds of grand juries in the sense that they have the same kinds of powers and keep records and bring documents and bring witnesses, but it's just one person in that room.

COSSACK: David, other grand juries, at least that I'm familiar with, the prosecutor calls -- is the one that interrogates the witnesses in front of the grand jury. How does it work in this case? Does a prosecutor call a witness and then take him into the judge, and the prosecutor talks to him in front of the judge?

ROSEN: My understanding is that the -- is that it's much more judge-driven because the grand jury is a judge, is not 23 or some other number of lay people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Steve, how difficult is it for a prosecutor in general to prosecute a case that's 25-years-old?

STEVE BERK, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Extremely difficult, Greta. I mean, the evidence is cold, memories can fade, documents are old, statements are old. Even the passage of time, per se, in and of itself, is a problem, just as the defense attorney was trying to suggest that if you didn't -- if you had the murderer, you knew this person was the murderer, why didn't you bring it sooner, particularly in a heinous crime like this? So, the older the case, you know, the harder it is. It really handicaps a prosecutor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dominick, you said that there was some sort of resistance from the Skakel family. Did his father testify in this grand jury proceeding?

DUNNE: Yes, he did, finally. He didn't want to, didn't want to, and he had doctors say that he was not physically fit. But, in the long run, the judge decided he had to come, and he did come.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what did he add to the investigation?

DUNNE: Well, I mean, I don't know what happened in the grand jury. Nobody knows.

COSSACK: David, in terms of being -- prosecuting this suspect as a juvenile, how does that work in the fact that he's now an adult? Will he be prosecuted as a juvenile?

ROSEN: The real question is whether he can be prosecuted at all. There's no statute of limitations for murder, which is the reason that this crime is still subject to investigation. But there is a statute of limitations for being a juvenile delinquent, and that's what this child, as he then was, can be accused of being. And since he's not a juvenile, hasn't been for decades, he may fall between the two systems.

VAN SUSTEREN: But could he not have been tried as an adult then, had he been arrested, David?

ROSEN: He could have been tried as an adult then, had he been arrested and prosecuted, had he at least been arrested during the time he was a juvenile, but the statutes talk about judges treating children one way or another and transferring children to the regular court for prosecution. And whatever Mr. Skakel is, he's no child. VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break. We'll be right back with more on the Moxley murder case. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Why does a panel investigating police corruption in Los Angeles recommend that service in the LAPD's anti-gang unit be limited to three years?

A: So that officers do not be seduced by crime. A similar two- year policy is in effect in the LAPD vice unit.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF. We're talking about the 25-year-old murder of Martha Moxley and now a suspect, the nephew of late Robert F. Kennedy.

Dominick, what has Michael Skakel been doing the last 25 years?

DUNNE: Well, I can't tell you what he's been doing the last 25 years. He was in the Elan school for a while. I don't know what happened to him. I know he's married. I know that he worked for his first cousins, Joseph and Michael Kennedy, and I -- I'm pulling a blank on the name the -- they provide -- it's called the Citizens Energy Committee or something like that in Boston in which they provide low-rent heat for the poor. And he worked for them for several years when -- when the senator thought he was going to become the governor before Michael's death, and he got fired from that job. That's all I know about it.

COSSACK: OK, Steve Berk, this is -- I'm going to make you the prosecutor in this case. This is obviously a tough case. How do you go about preparing to prosecute this characters. You obviously understand that you've got some difficulties.

BERK: Right. Well, first of all, we have to get through the legal issues, the technicalities in the sense of juvenile versus adult. It seems to me that once there is probable cause, and that's what the judge has found, or the grand jury has found, now we've got to raise the standard and prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

It's a heinous crime, I think you'd obviously want to focus on that. You'd want to focus on the fact that there are only perhaps a couple of people that could have committed the offense, one of the brothers presumably, and then you've got to work really hard to get these statements into evidence, these admissions into evidence and everything else that you can pull together to weave together both a circumstantial case and a case based on admissions.

In terms of the legal issues, you've got to take a shot at him as a juvenile, and if you can't do that, it seems you me you want to then take a shot at him as an adult. But once you've got probable cause, I think the prosecutors will want to be really aggressive and see that this man is brought to trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: David, what's the biggest problems or set of problems for the defense attorney in this case?

ROSEN: The case is hard to prosecute. It's also hard to defend. There's no way for a defense attorney to find evidence, any more than there is for the prosecutor to have found anything beyond what they have. It's a heinous crime, it has all the emotional momentum that this kind of crime has. It may not be an unalloyed good to be a Kennedy relative if you're a criminal defendant. So, the defense, I think, would like to win this case on the legal issues without...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me as Dominick before we run out of time. Dominick, you spoke to Martha Moxley's mother last night. What was her reaction to the news?

DUNNE: Well, I'll tell you, she was -- she's an extraordinary women, as I have said, and I'm deeply fond of her. She was very, very excited that the time had finally come when an arrest was going to be made.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, I mean, I assume that she realizes there's a trial ahead and may very well be that Michael Skakel didn't do this and that the case will never be solved.

DUNNE: Well...

COSSACK: Dominick, you don't seem to buy into that one. You're...

DUNNE: No, I don't buy into that one.

COSSACK: In your book, you wrote, and you -- it's your thesis that in fact that Michael Skakel is the one who did it?

DUNNE: Yes.

COSSACK: All right.

DUNNE: I didn't write that in the book, no, but, I mean, that is what I absolutely, firmly believe.

COSSACK: All right.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching. Join in on the discussion surrounding this high-profile murder case today on "TALKBACK LIVE." That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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