Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s New Book Attempts to Clear His Cousin of a 1975 Murder (Q&A)

Chris Buck/Courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Kennedy presents what he calls "proof beyond reasonable doubt" that two inner-city teens murdered the 15-year-old girl, but experts remain skeptical.

On the morning of Oct. 31, 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found dead among some trees on her family’s property in the exclusive enclave of Belle Haven in Greenwich, Conn. Suspicion immediately fell on her neighbors, brothers Tommy and Michael Skakel, cousins of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It’s a story chronicled first by Dominick Dunne in his 1993 novel, A Season in Purgatory, which was made into a TV movie of the same name, and then by Mark Fuhrman who wrote his own book, Murder in Greenwich, which was turned into a TV movie in 2002. It's doubtful that Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, had in mind a TV deal when he wrote his new book, Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit.

Son of former attorney general and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and nephew to JFK, Kennedy sits squarely on that bridge between Washington power and celebrity. His Aunt Patty married Peter Lawford, and although Kennedy also is married to an actor, Cheryl Hines, he generally eschews the limelight himself unless it’s to appear on talk shows like Bill Maher to discuss environmental issues. A strident activist, he has thrown his weight behind documentaries like The Last Mountain, about strip mining in coal country, and A Dangerous Game, about unscrupulous land developers like Donald Trump, of whom he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I will only say Trump is a demagogue and it’s frightening.”

In Framed, he attempts to clear his cousin Michael, who served 11 years of a 20-year sentence before his conviction was vacated in 2013 on the grounds that his attorney mounted an inadequate defense. For the time being Michael is free on $1.2 million bond, awaiting a decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court expected later this year on whether to grant him a new trial or overturn the lower court’s decision and send him back to prison. Kennedy's book attempts to pin the murder on two teens from Manhattan, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burton Tinsley. But a 2007 ruling found evidence against them inadequate grounds for retrying the case and Martha's mother Dorthy Moxley said she found the accusations risible.

Recently, THR spoke to Kennedy about the book and his quest to clear his cousin's name. 

One of the main reasons the conviction was vacated was that the defense didn’t focus on prime suspects like Michael’s brother, Tommy.

Tommy, by virtue of the fact that he was the last person to see her alive and that he changed his story 15 years later, was a police suspect, but there was no other evidence against him and he himself had what the prosecutor acknowledged as an iron-clad alibi.

Which was?

It couldn’t have been Tommy because Tommy appeared at 10:15 to watch The French Connection with [live-in tutor] Kenny Littleton, who said he was wearing the same clothes, he was not nervous, he was calm. The question was, How could he have committed a murder 15 minutes before, washed himself off and then calmly taken a seat next to Kenny Littleton?

But Michael’s own attorney, Hubie Santos, felt there ought to have been more scrutiny of Tommy.

I think Hubie surprised everybody by saying that. He surprised Michael, he surprised me, he surprised everybody. He’s never really explained that. I don’t think there’s anybody in the family who believes that there’s any possibility that Tommy had anything to do with this.

Why did both Tommy and Michael change their testimony so drastically?

Every single witness that night had dramatic shifts in testimony. I think that’s just a function of the vicissitudes of human memory. Both the Skakel boys changed their stories, but they’re the only people who offered a reason for changing their stories. One, Tommy Skakel was making out with [Moxley]. He said he came in at 9:30; he now reports he was making out with Martha between 9:30 and 10:00. Of course he did not want to admit to Martha’s mother that the two of them had been making out.

In later testimony, it was revealed that Michael was drunk and high and masturbating in a tree outside Moxley’s house around the time of the murder or shortly thereafter.

Michael had turned 15 a couple of months before. He had been masturbating, which a lot of boys that age do, and he did not want to admit it.

In the last chapter of your book, you inculpate two teens from Manhattan — Adolph Hasbrouck, described as African-American, and Burton Tinsley, of mixed Asian descent — based on the testimony of their friend, Tony Bryant [a cousin of Kobe Bryant], who came forward in 2003. But no one in Belle Haven remembers seeing them that night.

I think people did see those boys that night. Those kids were all hiding [it was Mischief Night, the night before Halloween]. They’d come to Belle Haven to commit vandalism and that was their purpose and they didn’t want to be seen. So you had people on a dark night, on a very cold night when people were likely wearing hoodies or hats and who were deliberately trying to stay hidden.

The most damning evidence against them would be two hairs found on a sheet covering the body.

They didn’t do DNA testing on the hairs. So the hairs were identified by other methodologies that I think were contemporary at the time and probably seem primitive now. One of them was described as a "Negro hair." The other was described as having Asian similarities. And Dr. Henry Lee, who is of Asian descent, who is the chief criminologist in Connecticut, testified that he himself would be a suspect because the hair was so definitively Asian. I’m not exactly sure how they made those determinations.

In the book you maintain that this adds up to proof beyond reasonable doubt.

I think people have to make up their own minds about that. This case should not be decided on passion or prejudice or anybody’s opinion. It should be decided on the facts. And when I think people read the facts, a lot of people will believe that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t think anybody could read that book and still believe that Michael Skakel is guilty.

And you have no qualms about pointing the finger at two minorities from the city in the current racially charged atmosphere?

First of all, I’m not pointing the finger at two black kids. I’m pointing the finger at a black kid and a white kid. Second of all, what I did was tell the truth. For me, I don’t know another way to function other than to tell the truth.

And are you confident Michael will receive a new trial?

If they decide to uphold the decision then Michael will be free and the state will have to make a decision about whether to retry the case. I would be very surprised if they decided to send Michael back to prison and that’s what would happen, he would be sent back to prison to complete his term.

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