Witness Says Skakel Confessed

Wednesday, June 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Tears rolled down Michael Skakel's face as the first of two former classmates testified that the Kennedy family nephew confessed 20 years ago to killing a teen-age neighbor.

``He's just very upset about hearing this moron get up there and lie,'' Michael Sherman, Skakel's lawyer, said after Tuesday's testimony.

The attorney was referring to John Higgins, who said Skakel admitted he killed Martha Moxley in 1975. Both Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time of the bludgeoning in upscale Greenwich.

The witnesses, Higgins and Gregory Coleman, were students with Skakel at the Elan School, a Maine residential substance abuse treatment center for youths, in the late 1970s.

Both testified before a judge who will decide whether there is enough evidence for a trial and, if so, whether the 39-year-old Skakel will be tried in juvenile court. The hearing was to resume Wednesday and is expected to last several days.

Coleman testified that he had noticed Skakel had special privileges at the school, including a stereo and records. Coleman said he made a comment to Skakel in 1978 that it appeared he could get away with murder.

Coleman said Skakel replied: ``I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy.'' Skakel's father, Rushton Skakel Sr., is the brother of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel.

Coleman said Skakel told him he beat Moxley's skull in with a golf club after she rejected his romantic advances.

Coleman also said that he heard Skakel make an admission to the murder during a therapy session in which participants were urged to get in touch with their pain and then repeatedly scream ``I'm sorry.''

Sherman, the defense lawyer, pointed out that Coleman waited 20 years to say anything about the purported confession. Coleman said he called a TV reporter after seeing a segment on the Moxley killing, and Sherman asked why Coleman didn't call police. Coleman said he didn't know why.

Sherman also ran through Coleman's criminal record, including a 1983 conviction for robbery and a 1999 conviction for trespassing. Coleman is serving a year in prison on that count. Sherman suggested that Coleman was looking for a deal from prosecutors by agreeing to testify against Skakel.

Higgins told the judge that one night while he and Skakel were on ``night owl duty'' — watching to ensure no one ran away from the dormitory — a sobbing Skakel admitted his involvement in the Moxley murder.

Higgins said Skakel told him he remembered going through golf clubs stored in the Skakel family garage, then running through the woods and seeing pine trees.

``He said that he didn't know whether he did it and he couldn't remember,'' Higgins said. ``He eventually said that he, in fact, did it.''

Higgins admitted that he and Skakel were never close friends, and that he had lied about Skakel's alleged comments when contacted by a police detective many years later.

``I didn't want to talk to this guy — or anybody else — about it, ever,'' Higgins said.

Sherman suggested Higgins had only come forward after he heard about a reward. But Higgins said he had never tried to claim the reward, which later was withdrawn.

Skakel became upset during Higgins' testimony, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Moxley was beaten to death with a 6-iron; the club was traced to a set owned by the Skakels.

The club broke into several pieces, and the handle was never recovered despite an extensive search of the neighborhood that included draining swimming pools and checking the Long Island Sound.

Moxley's body was found under a tree on her family's estate. She had been at the Skakel house the night before with a group of friends, including Michael Skakel and his older brother, Thomas Skakel, then 17.

Authorities suspected Thomas Skakel for years, but switched their attention to Michael after he changed his story about his movements the night of the murder. A judge, acting as a grand jury, began investigating in 1998 and determined there was enough evidence to arrest Skakel.

Under the law in effect in 1975, Skakel could face a maximum of four years if he is convicted as a juvenile. If he is convicted as an adult, he could get 25 years to life.

Moxley's brother, John, who was 17 when his sister was murdered, said he thought Skakel's emotion was fear.

``They weren't tears of joy. I think the reality is starting to tumble down around him,'' he said.