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Burden of Proof

1975 Greenwich Murder: Michael Skakel Charged

Aired January 20, 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)

CHIEF PETER BOBBINS, GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT POLICE: Many, many years have gone by since this tragic murder took place. This community has certainly been the focal point around the nation because of some of the connections that this case may or may not have. So I think it's a very important day for all of us to have this take place.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: We know that they have interviewed more than 40 witnesses, and obviously there is enough testimony among these people, even after 20, 25 years, to try to corroborate the evidence that is probably the basis for the arrest. But it certainly gives very good fodder for the defense attorney to bring up many, many issues about police.

MICHAEL SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S ATTORNEY: There's no plea bargain, there's been none discussed, there will be none discussed. This is not a plea-bargain case. There's not a deal going to be made here. He'll either be found guilty or not guilty, one or the other, because he will go to trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: A 25-year-old murder investigation gets national exposure because of the suspect's prominent connections. Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: An uncommon grand jury probe led to the charge, and Michael Skakel's lawyer says there's no physical evidence implicating his client.

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

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

Thirty-nine-year-old Michael Skakel has always maintained his innocence in the death of Martha Moxley. The 1975 murder in Greenwich, Connecticut ended Martha's life at the age of 15. Skakel was also 15 at the time.

On Wednesday, nearly 25 years after the crime, he turned himself into Greenwich police, still maintaining his innocence. He posted a half-a-million-dollar bond and returned to his Florida home. Joining us today from Detroit, Michigan is medical examiner Werner Spitz; in New York, attorney Robert Gottlieb; and here in Washington, Richard Krikava (ph), former federal prosecutor Marty Rogers, Brittany Bradshaw (ph). And in our back row, Johanna Pabst (ph) and Kerry Ogata (ph).

Dr. Spitz, let me go first to you: In terms of being a medical examiner back in 1975 when you conducted the autopsy of that poor young girl, what is it the medical examiner is trying to do to help the prosecution?

DR. WERNER SPITZ, MEDICAL EXAMINER: Well, the autopsy is, of course, most significant in any criminal case. So the autopsy will shed light on the type of crime it is. Is it a crime of passion, is there overkill? And possibly the autopsy may shed a light on the type of weapon that was used; not only whether it was a knife or a gun or a blunt object, but what type of blunt object may have been used? Many times, the blunt object can be ascertained by matching a hypothetical blunt object to the type of fracture in a bone.

And in this case, there was -- I am quite familiar with the autopsy report on this case because I reviewed it 25 years ago. The police came to me and asked me to review it. And at that time, it was my opinion that this was a crime of passion perpetrated by a severe beating on the head, and that a blunt object was, in fact, used to perpetrate this. I cannot remember what my opinion was at the time as to what type of object it is, but I now read that there is a golf club suspect. And I can tell you that to identify a golf club would not be something that I would consider necessarily impossible. In other words, to identify a golf club from the type of fractures would be something within reason and not that difficult to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, you say it's a crime of passion. That was your conclusion when you looked at the autopsy report almost 25 years ago.

SPITZ: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is it that indicates to you that it's a crime of passion rather than perhaps even a random act of violence?

SPITZ: A random crime of violence, a random killing is not usually associated with a tremendous amount of overkill. This was not a situation where there is one blow. This is a boom, boom, boom, boom, boom-type situation, and that suggests a crime of passion much more so than a random killing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Spitz, obviously the medical examiner is there to help find who killed the person. What kind of clues would you have expected to find on the body of Martha Moxley to link her to the assailant?

SPITZ: Well, for one thing, I would consider a sexual contact here as something that is quite likely. And if that is the case, then there would have been specimens taken. At that time, there was no DNA, but there was blood typing, and that would certainly shed a very significant -- shed very significant information on who might have been involved here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Could you tell from reviewing the autopsy report about 75 -- about 25 years ago, rather, whether or not that it is likely that the victim's blood would have been on her assailant?

SPITZ: Probably. The -- what I remember now of the type of injuries, there were open wounds, and that spatters, that causes a blood spatter. And so it -- even somebody holding a golf club which is fairly lengthy would sustain some spattering in the process.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would there be any point at this time to exhume the body? Would there be any sort of value of it to a medical examine to try to solve this 1975 murder?

SPITZ: Before I would go that route, I would certainly like to be sure that every avenue has been exhausted with regards to studying the autopsy report that's in existence now. If I remember the autopsy report that I reviewed at that time, it is a very lengthy and extremely detailed report. If that is indeed the case, before anything else is done, that should have to be gone through with a fine-toothed comb.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you recall, reading the autopsy report, whether there's any indication that Martha Moxley may have struggled with her assailant, to suggest that, perhaps, there might have been something under her fingernails that might link her to her assailant?

SPITZ: You know, any -- I don't recall that, but any time there is a crime where somebody is dead, where there is evidence of physical contact, such as this where there's a beating -- this is not a shooting across the room, this is a physical altercation. And in those -- under those circumstances, always fingernails have to be taken. I realize that only a relatively small percentage of cases have, indeed, that evidence under their fingernails, but it always serves a good -- it is always necessary to collect that type of evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about preservation of that type of evidence if it was collected, if there's any sort of trace evidence from the body collected in 1975? Do we have to worry today about degradation?

SPITZ: Well, it may -- I don't really think so. I think if they found hair or fiber or some -- even blood underneath there, and that has been preserved, DNA is still, today, feasible.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to...

SPITZ: On dry blood spat -- on dry blood stains.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a break. Up next, Michael Skakel will be arraigned next month on a charge of murder: A preview of the prosecution and the defense when we come back.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

The only one of four Michigan middle school students to face trial for planning a school massacre was found not guilty. Two of the others accepted plea agreements; charges against another were dropped. All four were expelled from school.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

1240

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the Worldwide Web. Just log on to 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.

Yesterday in Greenwich, Connecticut, 39-year-old Michael Skakel was charged as a juvenile for the beating death of teenager Martha Moxley. When the 1975 murder took place, Skakel was 15 years old. He'll be arraigned in Stamford juvenile court on February 8th, and efforts to transfer the case to an adult criminal court could take prosecutors up to a year.

We're joined now on the telephone by Mark Fuhrman, who has written the book "Murder in Greenwich," which is about this homicide.

Mark, is there any physical evidence linking Michael Skakel to this murder?

MARK FUHRMAN, AUTHOR, "MURDER IN GREENWICH": Well, I think -- there -- I don't think, I know there is. By their own admission, the golf club came from the Skakel house, and I think that's been established. There's still portions of that golf club that exist, so that's a -- that's a piece of physical evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN: But there were others -- Mark, were there not others in the house that night who had equal access to this golf club?

FUHRMAN: Well, I agree with that, but then this kind of physical evidence definitely helps corroborate admissions not only of location, places and times where somebody was lying to the police and then admissions of actually committing the crime that Michael has made to several people, including, you know, incriminating statements or corroborative statements in a book proposal that he's done. So, I think it shores up the case, and I see where you're going with it. Somebody's admissions can't be the sole piece of evidence that holds them to answer for a crime, I understand that, but I think there's plenty there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, do you have any criticism of the police work that was done back in 1975?

FUHRMAN: Well, you know, I have, and I think in a different context, you know. Now we're talking about something that, you know, we're in the indictment stage. I think there is mistakes made, I think, and I wished that the Greenwich police would have talked to me about why they did certain things. Now they have to be mistakes, but I think the biggest mistake is no search warrant in the home. I mean, the chance of finding blood, hair or any other kind of forensic evidence in the house would have been incredibly useful in an interrogation even today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, do they have any explanation, the Greenwich police, why they doesn't serve a warrant at the Skakel home?

FUHRMAN: Well, I think it's -- I think it's pretty obviously: They took the easy way when Rushton Sr. said, you can -- sure, you can look around, do whatever you want, and that's -- and you know as well as I do that's fine until you get close to something and they could revoke that, then you have to go the other direction and you have to take the time to get a search warrant, where, if you're going to do a search warrant, you evacuate the house, you freeze everything, you get the search warrant, and it is your search, you don't ask permission. I think there's a little intimidation by their family connections, their family themselves; the Skakel family are very rich, rich and powerful and then connected to the Kennedys. I think that all preceded judgment.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, how difficult is it to prosecute a case that's this old?

MARTY ROGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it will be very difficult to prosecute this case 25 years later for some of the reasons that we've mentioned. Even Dr. Spitz was saying how he had forgotten about the golf club until he recently read about it, and Dr. Spitz has the benefit of having an autopsy report that's written that he can review. But for other people, for other witnesses or potential witnesses who have to rely on their memories for what happened or what they saw, not to mention the lack of physical evidence, and I -- you know, I believe that the Greenwich Police Department, you know, that's a very exclusive community, and they lived in a very exclusive community of Greenwich, and not many murders occur there, and I think they just didn't quite handle it right. And I know in Mr. Fuhrman's book he had talked about how the medical examiner did not come to the scene of the crime while the body was still there in the Moxley's backyard, and I think that should have been done.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, you were hired by Michael and Thomas Skakel for what purpose?

ROBERT GOTTLIEB, ATTORNEY FOR SKAKEL FAMILY INVESTIGATOR: The prosecutors in Connecticut were going throughout the country trying to obtain information, and they went so far as to try to force private investigators who were hired by Rushton Skakel, and therefore my clients, to try to get an order requiring these private investigators, who were working for the defense attorneys, to walk into a grand jury and to disclose what statements were given to them by Michael and Thomas Skakel in clear violation of the most basic constitutional rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what was the ruling? Were the investigators -- and they were Sutton Associates -- were they compelled to testify in a grand jury?

GOTTLIEB: Well, in part. There was one brave judge in Nassau County in New York who actually said, wait a second, you can't just ask a private investigator to go into a grand jury and to breach a constitutional right. That was the only judge who had the courage to establish that. Nevertheless, there was some grand jury testimony that was elicited.

Now, I have to tell you, Greta, that's just the beginning, because even in Connecticut the courts have said that this issue, whether or not a trial jury in the future will ever hear from a defense attorney's private investigator about what his client said, that is going to be a major issue that is going to be litigated, and I can't imagine that any court would ever permit it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, what kind of statements did Michael Skakel allegedly make?

FUHRMAN: Well, Michael Skakel -- let's forget Sutton Associates. In the book proposal, he admitted he lied to the police in 1975 which corroborates his statements in 1992 to Willis Krebs, the P.I. Now, it's interesting that the owner of the Sutton Associates, Jim Murphy, had a relationship with Len Levitt and was violating the privilege by permission of the Skakel family to talk to Jim Murphy to -- or, to talk to Len Levitt to get this information out and leak it to their advantage. Now, that, once you bring all those factors in, which a criminal trial will, it's going to alleviate that privilege, because the Skakel family itself ordered the privilege to be violated, and...

GOTTLIEB: Mark, I -- Greta, if I have to say, Mark is just wrong there. I have represented Jim Murphy. He was called as the one and only witness in Nassau, County...

FUHRMAN: Well, maybe a phone conversation, a taped conversation with Jim Murphy might change your mind.

GOTTLIEB: He made it clear that he has never violated any privilege...

FUHRMAN: Len Levitt said that?

GOTTLIEB: And this concept that somehow Jim Murphy, who is one of the most distinguished private investigators in this country, would ever violate an attorney-client relationship and his relationship with the defense attorney is simply hogwash and it's not true.

FUHRMAN: Well, Len Levitt had a conversation with me that I can definitely prove that said that he has a relationship with Jim Murphy and he was going to funnel in information as it came in about this.

GOTTLIEB: Well, it's interesting, you're talking about your conversation with Len Levitt. I'm simply telling you...

FUHRMAN: I had a conversation with Jim Murphy, too.

GOTTLIEB: ... that from the horse's mouth, Jim Murphy, who I represented, he did not violate any confidences. That's simply not true, and I don't care what you say, I don't care what anyone else says.

FUHRMAN: I didn't say Jim violated a confidence, I said there was an agreement.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, when we're -- let me tell you -- what I'm going to say is, we're going to take a break, and we'll be right back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: How much money have Texas A&M officials voted to devote to the investigation of last year's fatal bonfire collapse?

A: One million dollars. Any expenses beyond that figure will require additional consideration.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Marty, it's one thing to have statements of a person that are inconsistent or may be incriminating and physical evidence linking a person to a crime. In this particular case, I have not yet seen evidence linking him to the body, Michael Skakel, just statements.

ROGERS: Tough, tough to prove a case based on statements, particularly on statements that he allegedly made at a substance abuse center, and apparently these fellows who are also at the substance abuse center, obviously drug users of some sort. I mean, to rely on them as the witnesses or that, you know, there is a braggart, young guy talking when he shouldn't be talking, saying things that he doesn't really mean. I mean, that's not a very good case.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Bob, have you had a chance to talk to Michael Skakel since the news of the charge?

GOTTLIEB: No, I haven't. But Greta, you know, just on -- to follow up with the drug center, that also is going to be a key issue, even that evidence should never ever be heard by any jury because there somebody goes -- any viewer, today, who goes to see a doctor for treatment, for counseling, they are...

VAN SUSTEREN: If this was a group -- was this not, though, I mean isn't the problem that Michael Skakel has, though, wasn't simply in the context of a doctor-patient, but with a group. I mean, does the privilege extend to everybody who is there.

GOTTLIEB: Absolutely, you know, because, you are right. It is simple to say: Well, if I go to a counselor or a doctor, there is privilege. But if there is a group, somehow that is broken, That's absurd because everyone in that group is speaking because they are assuming that everything they are saying in this group therapy is going to be confidential. So there is no waiver. There is no breach because of that.

ROGERS: Unless he said it outside of group therapy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, is there any ongoing investigation in this case that, in the physical evidence department, that might link Michael Skakel to this murder directly?

FUHRMAN: Well, I don't have any direct information about the grand jury information. But I would like to make a comment about, you know, when you are talking about any psychiatrist that has a patient that admits to a murder or that they will murder, that will be given to a law enforcement agency and that doctor will be in court. I mean, this does not supersede human life and we're also talking about three patients.

VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, is that your understanding?

ROGERS: It is my understanding vaguely, with respect to a future crime, not with respect to a past one. If I say -- I'm going to my psychiatrist and I'm going to murder Greta tomorrow. You know, then maybe he has an obligation to warn or something. But to have talked about something I did 25 years ago or 10 years ago or whatever, I don't think he's under an obligation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Spitz, have we advanced so far technologically and medically that, if the investigation were conducted today, if the murder occurred yesterday, that it would be easier to find out who committed this crime?

SPITZ: Well, I tend it believe that today, after O.J. Simpson and so many others, the medical examiner will go to the scene, in a crime of this nature. I also believe that evidence would be collected that would be incriminating 25 years from now, in the future. I have the idea that today a crime such as this would be handled somewhat differently, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, was this scene preserved or was this contaminated when they were doing the initial investigation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry Mark had to actually leave the phone, he had to appear on another television interview.

VAN SUSTEREN: We've lost Mark and, guess what, we're all out of time. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": Hillary Clinton's race for the Senate gets personal. Weigh in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

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

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