Witness: Skakel 'probably' drove away in car before dog began barking
NORWALK, Connecticut (Court TV -- On the night his teenage neighbor was killed, Michael Skakel may have driven away from the scene before dogs in the neighborhood began barking, according to a prosecution witness who testified Thursday in the Kennedy kin's murder trial.
Helen Ix Fitzpatrick said she was not absolutely sure Skakel was in the car when it pulled out of a driveway but she insisted that her dog, "Zocks," began barking "violently" in the direction of the spot where Martha Moxley's body was later found.
Fitzpatrick, who was friendly with both Martha and Skakel and lived in same Belle Haven section of Greenwich, said the dog's behavior between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. on Oct. 30, 1975, was out of character. Because the defense contends that "Zocks" and numerous other neighborhood dogs were detecting the fear Martha must have been feeling as someone beat her about the head with a golf club, Fitzpatrick's testimony lends credence to the defense contention that Skakel was not at the scene during the murder.
"He was always barking but not like that. He barked at everything and chased cars. He even barked at us," Fitzpatrick testified. "That night he was barking and barking. He wouldn't come. He would always come when I called to him ... He was definitely disturbed by something."
Prosecutor Susann Gill tried to blunt the damage inflicted by her own witness by pointing out that Fitzpatrick's family is so close to the Skakels that she referred to the defendant's father as "Uncle Rush." Fitzpatrick conceded that she felt sympathy for Michael Skakel but said it was "more probable than not," a phrase the judge used, that Skakel was in a car with relatives when the witness's dog began barking incessantly in the direction of the crime scene.
In addition to trying to establish that Fitzpatrick was unsure if Skakel was in the car, Gill also attempted to demonstrate that Fitzpatrick would not have been in a position to see if Skakel or anyone got out of the car down the street. Gill also suggested through her questions that Fitzpatrick's dog could have been barking at neighborhood "kids" causing a commotion on the night before Halloween, or "Mischief Night" as it was known.
Although Fitzpatrick believes Skakel was in the car, she said in response to a question by Gill that she was not absolutely sure. The prosecution and defense sparred over the testimony, but eventually the jury heard that Fitzpatrick had told police that Michael Skakel left in the car but his brother, Thomas Skakel, remained behind.
Feeling like "a third wheel," Fitzpatrick testified that when she and friend Geoffrey Byrne left Martha and Thomas Skakel shortly before 9:30 p.m. to go home the two were flirting playfully. A police witness testified Wednesday that a prosecutor refused to endorse an arrest warrant application charging Thomas Skakel, now 43, with Martha's murder.
Before Fitzpatrick took the stand, another friend of the victim, Jackie Wetenhall O'Hara, read from portions of Martha's diary and agreed that the passages for the months before the murder accurately reflected Martha's relationship with Thomas and Michael Skakel. Martha called both brothers "an ass" in different entries and seemed ambivalent to Thomas Skakel's advances. O'Hara, whom Michael Skakel liked when they were teenagers, smiled nervously when she identified the now 41-year-old defendant in court.
O'Hara confirmed that she observed Martha and Thomas Skakel flirting on occasion, testimony the prosecution offered to support its theory that Michael and Thomas Skakel were rivals for Martha's affections, and that's why she was killed.
On cross-examination, however, defense lawyer Mickey Sherman got O'Hara to agree that there is nothing in the 15-year-old's diary excerpt that foretold the tragic and brutal end of her life.
Jury shown golf club
As the third day of testimony opened Thursday, jurors were shown a Toney Penna four-iron that police say came from the same set as the six-iron used to inflict eight or nine blows to Martha's head before she was stabbed with a piece of broken shaft.
Retired Greenwich police detective James Lunney testified that he found the club in a barrel in the mudroom of the Skakel home about 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1975, the day Martha's body was found. Lunney returned to the Skakel home the next day and retrieved the club with the consent of homeowner Rushton Skakel Sr., father of the defendant and a brother of Ethel Kennedy.
The four-iron, which jurors were given to handle and examine, once bore a label identifying the owner of the club as "Mrs. R.W. Skakel, Greenwich [Country Club]." Police believe Martha's killer broke off the handle of the murder weapon and got rid of it in a failed effort to keep police from linking the club to the Skakel household.
Sherman, however, pointed out through Lunney's testimony that the four-iron was in plain sight when police visited the Skakel home on Oct. 31, 1975, and was still there the following day.
"No one hid it? No one made any attempt to prevent you from seeing it?" Sherman asked.
"No," Lunney replied, agreeing that the club was in plain view.
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