A murder mystery that has spawned several books and cast a shadow over the Kennedy dynasty comes to trial in Connecticut this morning, even though the crime took place 26 years ago.
Prosecutors hope to prove that Michael Skakel, a nephew of the widow of the late Robert F Kennedy, was the person who murdered a childhood friend and unrequited sweetheart named Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut, when both he and the victim were only 15 years old.
Jury selection in the case will begin in Norwalk, a few miles east of Greenwich, today and could last more than a month. The trial, which will be closely watched across the country because of its backdrop of high society, may take another six weeks.
Miss Moxley was found dead by police under a tree in her home's garden in the exclusive, shoreline community of Bellehaven in Greenwich shortly after midday on 31 October 1975. Her head had been bludgeoned.
The focus of the investigation, widely considered to have been bungled by the Greenwich police, was the Skakel family, who lived next door, and notably Michael and his brother Tommy. Both boys were enamoured of the victim. Police said the murder weapon had been a golf club from the Skakel house.
If Mr Skakel, who is now 41 and has a child aged three, is convicted, he could face life imprisonment. He was charged in March 2000.His lawyer, Mickey Sherman, insisted yesterday that his client was innocent.
The victim's mother, Dorthy Moxley, is confident Mr Skakel will be found guilty. "I think it's a miracle we've gotten this far," she said. "But I feel very confident. I just think we have the right person."
Much of the testimony is expected to dwell on the whereabouts of Mr Skakel during the evening of 30 October. He told the police at the time that he had eaten at a local country club, visited a cousin and returned home to sleep.
In later years, however, Mr Skakel changed his version of events in a way that may have put him at the scene of the crime. He said he later went back outside, climbed a tree outside Miss Moxley's house and masturbated.
Jurors are likely to hear atape of Mr Skakel discussing his sexual attraction to Miss Moxley at the time. He made the comments while helping on a book proposal with a ghostwriter who penned Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean.
Additionally, former peers from a boarding school for teenagers with abuse problems, the Elan School, which Mr Skakel attended, are expected to testify that on a number of occasions he confessed to the murder – a claim he denies.
But prosecutors face many problems. Questions still linger over the role of a former tutor for the Skakel boys, Ken Littleton. Mr Littleton was granted immunity in the case after testifying before a grand jury in 1998. Another witness who testified to the grand jury about comments made by Mr Skakel while he was at the Elan School later revealed he had been high on cocaine at the time of his testimony.
The case has drawn public fascination, principally because of the setting. Bellehaven remains one of the most expensive areas of Greenwich, which already has a reputation for snobbery. The murder itself, now a quarter of a century old, deeply shocked its residents.
Investigators subsequently admitted they might have been insufficiently aggressive in their hunt because they felt intimidated by the Skakels' connections to the Kennedys.
Robert Kennedy Jnr has said he will attend the trial with his mother, Ethel Kennedy. "It was a terrible, terrible tragedy what happened to Martha Moxley, but another young life, Michael's, was destroyed too," he said.Reuse content