The murder of a 15-year-old girl rocked a quiet Connecticut town in 1975. A look inside at the case that has frustrated investigators.
The girl next door
In October 1975, Martha Moxley was a popular 15-year-old living with her parents, Dorthy and David, and her brother John, in the private Greenwich, Connecticut, neighborhood of Belle Haven — an exclusive community where violent crime was uncommon.
Another family living in Belle Haven was the Skakel family. Martha Moxley became friends with two of the Skakel boys, 15-year-old Michael and 17-year-old Tommy.
The Kennedy connection
The Skakels were cousins of the Kennedys through the marriage of Ethel Skakel and Robert F. Kennedy.
The Skakel’s home life
After their mother died of cancer, Rushton Skakel was the children’s sole parent.
Revealing diary entries
Martha Moxley recorded some interactions with the Skakels in her diary. In one entry, she wrote about 17-year-old Tommy Skakel, “Went driving in Tom’s car … and I was practically sitting on Tom’s lap … he kept putting his hand on my knee.” In another entry, she was particularly concerned with Michael’s behavior. The month before her death, on September 19, Martha wrote, “Michael was so totally out of it that he was being a real ass—- … I really have to stop going over there.”
The night before Halloween
On the night of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley went to the Skakel house to hang out.
A horrific discovery
The next afternoon, on Halloween, Martha Moxley’s body was found under a tree near the back of her family’s property. She had been attacked near her driveway and dragged to that spot by the tree. Investigators believe she was killed between 9: 30 p.m. and 10: 00 p.m. the night before.
The murder weapon
Martha Moxley had been beaten and stabbed with a Toney Penna golf club. Police later found a matching golf club from the same set on the Skakel property. The golf club she was struck with shattered from the force of the blows.
Michael Skalel’s alibi
Since Martha Moxley was last seen with the Skakels, police looked to them for accounts of what occurred that night. Michael Skakel told police that at 9: 30 p.m., he left Martha and Tommy to go to his cousin Jimmy Terrien’s house and returned home around 11: 30 p.m. and went straight to bed.
Tommy Skakel’s alibi
Tommy Skakel was an initial suspect and reportedly the last person to see Martha Moxley alive. He told investigators she went home shortly after Michael left at 9: 30 p.m. Ken Littleton, the Skakel family tutor, said Tommy was watching TV with him around 10 p.m. He noticed nothing unusual about Tommy.
The Skakel’s cooperation ends
On January 22, 1976, Rushton Skakel, who had allowed police to search his home after the murder, ended his family’s cooperation with investigators.
No new leads
No arrest was made in Martha Moxley’s murder. Years passed and the case went cold.
The Sutton Report
In 1995, a leaked document from an investigation ordered by Rushton Skakel pointed a finger at Michael Skakel for the first time. Michael told the investigators he didn’t go straight to bed after he returned home from his cousin’s house. He said he went back out, climbed a tree outside of Martha Moxley’s room and masturbated.
An alleged confession
Reports had also begun to circulate that while he was attending a reform school back in 1978, Michael Skakel had confessed to killing Martha Moxley. Gregory Coleman was one student who alleged Michael confessed to him saying, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.”
The case moves forward
In 1998, state’s attorney Jonathan Benedict convened a one-person grand jury to assess the evidence in the case. After an 18-month hearing, Michael Skakel was indicted for Martha Moxley’s murder.
Michael Skakel is charged with bludgeoning Martha Moxley to death in 1975; he surrenders to police in Greenwich. His trial would begin in May 2002.
Decades after the crime, a conviction
On August 30, 2002, Michael Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life for killing Martha Moxley. He was 41 years old.
Tony Bryant’s account
Michael Skakel’s legal team continued the fight to prove his innocence. On August 24, 2003, Tony Bryant, a former classmate of Michael’s, told Michael’s attorneys two of his friends who were visiting Belle Haven the night of Martha Moxley’s murder had confessed to killing a girl.
Armed with Tony Bryant’s story, Michael Skakel’s defense team requested a new trial. The judge denied the request.
An ineffective defense
September 27, 2010 – Michael Skakel’s legal team filed a new appeal that argued his trial attorney, Mickey Sherman, failed to provide a competent defense. Skakel’s new attorney, Hubert Santos, argued Sherman should have called witness Dennis Ossorio who could verify Michael was at his cousin Jimmy Terrien’s house at the time investigators believed Martha was murdered.
In 2013, a Connecticut judge ordered a new trial for Michael Skakel, ruling his original lawyer had not represented him effectively. After spending over 11 years behind bars, Michael was released from prison.
A new ruling
On December 30, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated Michael Skakel’s murder conviction. The court ruled that his legal representation at trial was competent.
Dorthy Moxley always believed Michael Skakel was guilty of killing her daughter. “I am sure that Michael is the young man who swung the golf club,” she said after the 2016 hearing. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
On May 4, 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed its 2016 decision and vacated Michael Skakel’s conviction.
The Final Say
On October 30, 2020, 45 years after Martha Moxley’;s murder, the State of Connecticut announced Michael Skakel would not be retried.
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