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Me and RFK, Jr.

April 23, 2007

Your Humble Servant found himself in an unfamiliar role last week. After 30 years of covering murders and trials, I found myself part of both, subpoenaed as a witness in a convicted killer’s desperate attempt for a new trial.

He is Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, convicted in 2002 of murdering his teenage neighbor in 1975, when the two of them were 15-year-olds. Leaving the Skakels’ home in Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut on Halloween eve, Martha was struck in the head 10 to 15 times with a golf club, so savagely the club shattered into pieces. The killer then stabbed her through the neck with one of them.

In a previous life, I spent all 1982 investigating the murder for the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time newspapers, which then refused to print my story because the newspaper’s former editor and/or publisher [I never figured out which] was too scared to ruffle some rich Greenwich feathers. The story did run — nine years later, if you can believe it — in 1991. Shortly afterwards, Connecticut authorities announced they were restarting their investigation.

The second phase of my involvement in the case began four years later, in 1995. In the previous four years, Connecticut authorities had gone off on an investigative tangent, focusing on a hapless tutor, Kenneth Littleton, who had moved into the Skakel house the night Martha was murdered. Although he had never met Martha, an investigator named Jack Solomon convinced himself that Littleton worked himself into a rage and murdered Martha because she had rejected him sexually. Solomon spent the next four years further convincing himself Littleton was a serial killer, murdering young women up and down the east coast. As if that weren’t scary enough, he informed the Skakels of his theory.

Michael’s late father, Rushton — who was Ethel Kennedy’s brother — responded by hiring private investigators “to clear the family name,” as they put it. Translation: pin the rap on Littleton.

They spent about a year running down all Solomon’s loco leads before concluding he must be marginally insane. Then, they started questioning Michael and his older brother Tommy, the last person known to have seen Martha alive and the prime suspect at the time.

And guess what? Both boys — men now in their 30s — admitted they had lied to the Greenwich police in 1975 about their whereabouts the night of the murder. Both now placed themselves with Martha at different times that night at or near the murder scene.

Their alibi, just in case either happened to have left semen: they’d both masturbated there.

In July, 1995, I was provided a copy of the private investigators’ report. When I published my stories a few months later, Connecticut authorities refocused on the Skakels. A new investigator, Frank Garr, had taken over from Solomon, who had mercifully retired. Garr had his own theories.

Result: in 2000 Michael was indicted for Martha’s murder. In 2002 he was tried and convicted.

That brought me to phase three. After Skakel’s conviction that June, I wrote a book about the murder. It was called “Conviction,” and it focused on my relationship with Garr, describing how we had each worked separately and together to solve the case.

The book was published in 2004. In 2005, it won the Mystery Writers Association’s first Edgar first award for non-fiction.

Fast-forward to last week and Skakel’s attempt to get a new trial. First witness was his cousin, Robert Kennedy Jr., who testified he had discovered new evidence: Martha’s real killer, he stated, was not Michael but two black men, never before identified by the police or by witnesses. RFK Jr. based his conclusions on a statement by one Gitano [Tony] Bryant, a cousin of basketball star Kobe. Gitano gave a deposition but refused to testify in court.

Kennedy also testified to a rift between Skakel and the Kennedy family, which began, he said, after Skakel exposed the sexual relationship between Kennedy’s brother Michael and his teenage baby-sitter. At the time, both Michael Kennedy and Michael Skakel were working in the Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign of RFK Jr.’s older brother Joseph. The babysitter scandal helped defeat brother Joe. One can only speculate how Joe feels about his brother, RFK Jr., testifying for the man who wrecked his candidacy.

As for Michael Kennedy, he died the following year in a freak ski accident in Aspen, Colorado. One can only speculate about how RFK Jr.’s mother, Ethel Kennedy, feels about the death of her son and whether she holds Michael Skakel at all responsible. Apparently, she doesn’t as she appeared as a spectator when RFK Jr. testified for him.

RFK Jr. also testified that “not one reporter” involved in the Moxley case had followed up his lead of the two black men as Martha’s killers.

But that’s not true. He and I had scheduled a meeting in August, 2003, at about the time he made his information public. But the day of our meeting, he canceled, claiming I was too close to Garr, whom Michael Skakel regards as his nemesis.

Garr was the reason I was subpoenaed to testify. Skakel’s new lawyers tried to say he had focused on Michael not because he was guilty but because Garr had made a secret book deal with me before the trial. According to Skakel’s former lawyer, Mickey Sherman, who also testified, the purveyor of that canard was the celebrity writer Dominick Dunne, who also claimed to have solved Martha’s murder.

So, let’s see. Michael was convicted in June, 2002. My book contract was signed with Judith Regan at Harper-Collins that September. My contract with Garr — he and I had a 50-50 split — was signed in February, 2003. All this happened after Michael’s conviction.

The book barely made back its small advance. As they say, 50 per cent of zero is zero.

Asked by Skakel’s lawyer, Hubert Santos, how much I paid Garr, I said I didn’t recall the exact amount but thought it was probably one one-thousandth of what the Skakel family was paying him.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt