The Skakel Trial: Gruesome Details from Day Two

  • Share
  • Read Later

Michael Skakel was on trial for the murder of teenage neighbor Martha Moxley

The gruesome autopsy photograph of Martha Moxley's body flashed on a screen and the dot of a laser pointer moved across it as Connecticut chief medical examiner Wayne Carver directed the jury's attention to deep wounds in the girl's head. They were, Carver said, produced by the Toney Penna six-iron that police say came from a set of clubs owned by the defendant's mother. Carver said the great force of the blows pierced the girl's skull and brain and that one blow was so sharp and piercing, virtually a stab, that it dragged a lock of her hair through one side of the neck and out the other. As many as nine blows may have been delivered, said Carver. "The assumption I am making," he announced, "is that only one club was used."

The defendant, Michael Skakel, nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's wife Ethel, showed little emotion as the coroner gave his testimony Wednesday, the second day of his murder trial. Dressed in a navy blue suit, he appeared unmoved by the images before him. The 41-year-old could face a life sentence if found guilty for the 1975 murder of Moxley, his young friend and neighbor in the exclusive Belle Haven neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut. Dr. Henry Lee, the forensic expert who became famous during the O.J. Simpson case, also testified on Wednesday. Describing the murder in detail, Lee told the court the attack probably started on the Moxley driveway — where spots of blood were found — but that Martha was finally killed on a nearby patch of grass.

Using his right arm in a chopping motion, Lee demonstrated how the murderer most likely stood over the victim, repeatedly hitting her with the club. "She was probably on the ground receiving some injury," he said. As the killer swung the club back, it had finally broken apart and the bloodied metal head and two sections of the shaft flew more than100 feet, coming to rest among dead leaves across the yard. The killer then dragged the girl 80 feet to a tree, stopping at one point along the way to roll the body over and change from pulling the upper body to pulling it by the feet. Lee also said that Moxley's jeans and underwear were pulled down before she was killed. After his appearance, he told TIME that "this indicates it was a sexual assault related to homicide."

In court, under cross-examination by defense attorney Michael Sherman, Lee said that he found no "direct evidence of this." No foreign blood and semen was found on Moxley1s body that would link Michael Skakel to the murder, as the defense consistently argued. Carver too had said that ultra-violet light tests had not found any trace of semen on the victim. A microscopic study of hair samples found at the crime scene showed them to be similar to those of Kenneth Littleton, who tutored Skakel and his older brother Thomas. Littleton had also been the focus of a police inquiry at the time of the murder. Another witness, retired police chief Thomas Keegan, had earlier testified that he gave an affidavit to prosecutors asking for an arrest warrant for Thomas Skakel, who is two years older than his brother. According to Keegan, his affidavit was rejected by prosecutors because there was no "probable cause" linking the older brother to the murder. "By signing it," the defense attorney asked Keegan, "did you believe there was probable cause?" "Yes," replied Keegan.

Later, in a small but dramatic twist, lead prosecutor Jonathan Benedict revealed that the affidavit in question had been lost.