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Skakel set to go on trial in 26-year-old murder case

Michael Skakel is charged with the murder of Martha Moxley, who was 15 when she was found slain in October 1975.  

NORWALK, Connecticut (CNN) -- Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of Michael Skakel, charged with the murder of his teen-age neighbor 26 years ago.

Martha Moxley, Skakel's 15-year-old neighbor, was found bludgeoned to death with a golf club outside her home in affluent Greenwich, Connecticut, on October 31, 1975.

Skakel, now 41 and the nephew of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, was charged with the crime in January 2000, largely on the strength of witnesses who said he either admitted to killing Moxley or said he could have killed her in an alcohol-induced blackout.

Skakel's attorney, Mickey Sherman, told CNN he would use the prosecution's own expert witnesses to disprove their case.

Connecticut state attorney's application for Skakel's arrest warrant  (FindLaw document, PDF format)

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"If we knew and if he knew (who killed Moxley), he would be the first one to rat the person out, no matter who it was," Sherman said. "He doesn't know, he wasn't there, he didn't do it, he had no part in it, and he has no knowledge of it."

Two new twists are expected to highlight the trial: For the first time, a jury may hear Michael Skakel's voice on tape describing his sexual attraction to the slain girl, and Michael's brother, Tommy, once a chief suspect, may testify about his actions the night of the murder. He has never testified under oath about the case.

The unsolved case languished for more than two decades until a judge was named in June 1998 to act as a one-man investigative grand jury. He ruled in January that there was enough evidence to charge Skakel with murder. Skakel, now a Florida resident, was then arrested and released on $500,000 bond.

The night before the murder, Michael, then 15, and his brother Tommy, then 17, had gone to dinner at a country club and then returned home, where they met up with Martha and a group of friends. It was "Devil's Night," when many neighborhood teens play pranks and stay out late.

According to police reports, Tommy was the last person seen with Martha, about 9:30 p.m. October 30.

After the body was discovered around 12:30 p.m. the next day, police searched the neighborhood, including the Skakel house, where they found a set of rare Tony Penna golf clubs, the type used to beat Martha to death. The six-iron, which police now consider the murder weapon, was missing.

Though pieces of a six-iron, including the head, were found in the vicinity of the body, a key part of the handle -- which in the set found in the Skakel house was monogrammed with the initials of Michael Skakel's late mother, Anne -- has never been found.

Tommy Skakel remained a suspect for years, until Michael was charged.

Report may provide argument for prosecution

A key development came in 1995, when a report commissioned by the Skakel family from the Sutton Associates private detective firm was leaked to the press.

The report said Michael and Tommy admitted lying to police about their actions the night Moxley died. Michael also made revelations that put him at the scene of the crime.

Michael said he had initially gone home after visiting his cousin, James Terrien, but he went back outside and climbed the tree outside Martha Moxley's house and masturbated while looking in the window.

Skakel may have complicated his own defense in 1997 by collaborating on a book proposal with ghostwriter Richard Hoffman called "Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean."

In the proposal, Michael admitted to using alcohol and marijuana on the night Martha was killed, and said he was sexually attracted to her.

"I wanted to kiss her. I wanted her to be my girlfriend, but I was going slow, being careful. The truth is that with Martha I felt a little shy. I thought that maybe if we spent the evening together at my cousin's something romantic might develop between us," Michael said in the draft proposal.

At the heart of the prosecution's case are the alleged confessions Michael made in the years immediately after the murder at the Elan rehabilitation center in Poland Springs, Maine, where Michael was sent in 1978 after a drunk-driving conviction.

But one key witness from Elan will not be able to testify: former resident Gregory Coleman, who died of a heroin overdose shortly after grand jury testimony in the case last year.

Coleman testified Skakel told him he was "going to get away with murder," and said Skakel described how he "drove her skull in," apparently with a golf club.

Coleman later testified that he had been under the influence of cocaine and heroin while testifying before the grand jury.

Two other key witnesses have also died in the years since Moxley's death.

Skakel was originally charged in juvenile court. But on January 31, 2001, Judge Maureen Dennis ruled the case should be transferred to adult court because, she said, there were no juvenile facilities available in Connecticut to accommodate a middle-aged defendant.

The Connecticut Supreme Court later upheld Dennis' ruling.

In juvenile court, Skakel would have faced a maximum sentence of four years in a rehabilitative facility, as opposed to a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison if convicted as an adult.




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