Video: Inside the Moxley Murder

Dateline NBC
updated 10/10/2004 7:53:50 PM ET 2004-10-10T23:53:50

It's a case about power and privilege, beauty and murder, a sensational crime that's been making headlines for almost three decades. Twenty-nine years ago, the wealthy town of Greenwich, Conn., was shaken by the killing of a pretty young teenager,15-year-old Martha Moxley. The community was shaken again when her neighbor, Michael Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedys, was arrested, tried and convicted. Why did it take decades to put a man behind bars? Two men never let go of this case. One of them, investigative reporter Leonard Levitt, shares new details from the remarkable detective story. Read an excerpt from "Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective's Twenty-Year Search for Justice," below:

Chapter One: East Coast O.J.
June 2002

I never thought Michael would be convicted.

I only hoped for Frank's sake the jury would deliberate longer than the few hours it had in the O. J. Simpson case. That way Frank wouldn't be embarrassed.

This was East Coast O.J., involving one of America's richest families with a bloodline to the Kennedys, and the case was all Frank's. He had found all the witnesses. Many hadn't wanted to testify. Frank Garr, they related, had pursued, cajoled, harassed, or threatened them.

Walking about the courtroom in his black pinstriped suit with his air of professional gravitas, Frank reminded me of an undertaker. His hair -- all white and formerly worn in a ponytail -- curled up the back of his neck. While working as a narcotics detective two decades before, he had taken an acting course in Manhattan. Like all actors, there was a touch of vanity to his appearance.

As Michael's trial begins, Frank is fifty-seven years old, a twenty-seven- year veteran of the Greenwich, Connecticut, police department. For the past seven years, he has been an inspector with the Fairfield County state's attorney's office. He has investigated the Moxley murder for eleven years and come to know it like no one else. He understands Michael better than Michael's own family and probably better than his numerous psychiatrists.

Frank also knows the Skakel family. Despite the image of forthrightness and generosity they present to the world, Frank says they have no morals or conscience. He calls them habitual liars and says their loyalty is only to each other.

Frank has no more regard for their friends, neighbors, and attorneys -- even their family priest. All of them, he says, knew about Michael but looked away.

"Genetic hedonism: the desire for immediate pleasure or instant gratification." That was the term for the Skakels coined by one of those psychiatrists, Dr. Stanley Lesse. He had been hired by Rushton Skakel Sr. the year after the murder when Rushton realized his son Tommy was a suspect.

But "genetic hedonism" falls short of describing them. Tom Sheridan, the Skakel family lawyer, would later offer his own term for them -- "histrionic sociopaths."

"Their interest is only self-interest," Sheridan says. "They lack empathy for anyone but themselves." And after the Skakels turned against him -- as they did to virtually everyone they used to protect them in the Moxley case -- Sheridan added, "And if you disagree with them, you are their enemy."

And here they all are, the Skakels and their supporters, filling the far right section of the courtroom in a calculated display of familial unity. They are a clannish crowd, unbowed and unrepentant. Both inside and outside the courtroom, they speak only to each other. They dress casually as only the rich can, in khaki pants, sports jackets, and loafers. The youngest brother Stephen wears alligator cowboy boots. They begin every morning with smiles and handshakes. Every afternoon they lunch together at the Ash Creek Saloon a few blocks away.

Rush Jr., the eldest of the seven children, has flown in from Bogota, Colombia. David, the second youngest, has come from Oregon. Their cousin, Bobby Kennedy Jr., appears unannounced late in the trial. He'd attended Michael's first court hearing in nearby Stamford two years before but has not been seen since.

Tommy -- Michael's older brother, boyhood rival, and tormentor -- also turns up, if only for a day. He is in his mid-forties now, balding and wearing glasses. Like Michael, he has admitted lying to the police about his whereabouts the night of the murder.

The family matriarch is Ann McCooey, Michael's aunt, Rushton's sister, known as Big Ann. A stout woman with bleached blonde hair, Big Ann sits in the same seat in the first row every day of the trial, next to her daughter, whose name is also Ann. During the trial, Michael is said to be staying with Big Ann, as his wife Margo -- Tom Sheridan's niece -- has begun divorce proceedings. The strain from his murder charge has been too much for them.

And there at the center is Michael. Now forty-one years old, portly and blowzy with thinning hair and a florid face, he does not or cannot close his shirt's top button beneath his tie. Each morning before testimony begins, he stands in the courtroom well, accepting his family's chucks of support, chatting with his lawyers and his bodyguard, a huge, bald black man. The bodyguard is not merely Michael's protector. He is his silencer. Michael can't keep his mouth shut.

Two years before at his first court appearance in Stamford, he had lurched from the defense table and made for Martha's mother Dorthy, seated in the first row of spectators. His voice loud enough to make the six o'clock news and even the next day's New York Times, he had blurted, "Dorthy, I feel your pain. But you've got the wrong guy."

She had turned to me in tears. Michael had sounded so aggressive, so arrogant. He'd presumed he could address her by her first name, as though they were equals. After twenty years, I still called her Mrs. Moxley.

During a break in that day's testimony, Frank caught my eye. "Did you notice Michael staring at me?" he asked. "Watch him when we go back. He tries to stare me down."

Better than anyone, Frank knows Michael can't control himself. He's blabbed about Martha's murder for years, releasing thoughts that weighed upon him, like steam escaping from a pressure cooker. Indeed, it was Michael's own words -- confided to friends, then to private investigators, and to the ghostwriter of his unpublished autobiography -- that led to his arrest.

I am one of nearly 100 reporters who have covered every day of Michael's month-long trial here in Norwalk. Unseen by the rest of them, a second drama is occurring.

I notice that Frank does not sit at the table with the prosecution team ...

The foregoing is excerpted from "Conviction" by Leonard Levitt. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.

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