02/19/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
Dorthy Moxley hardly relishes the idea of sitting in a court-room and revisiting the details of her 15-year-old daughter Martha's grisly 1975 death. But then Moxley, 68, has been waiting a quarter century for answers, and resolution seems closer now than ever before. "I'm not doing this for me," says Moxley of her long campaign to bring the case to trial. "I'm doing this for Martha."
Moxley's quest for justice took another step forward Jan. 31, when Connecticut superior court Judge Maureen Dennis ruled that Michael Skakel, 40, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy's, should be tried as an adult, though he was just 15 (and thus legally a juvenile) on the day Moxley's bludgeoned body was found on the lawn of her family's home in posh Greenwich, Conn. Ruling that the state lacked appropriate juvenile facilities to house an adult, Dennis cleared the way for Skakel's arraignment at the superior court in Stamford, Conn., on Feb. 21. "We've come up against a lot of obstacles. We're happy to be over this one," says Frank Garr, 55, the chief investigator on the case. Skakel's attorney Mickey Sherman says his client (who remains free on $500,000 bail) is also eager to put his case before a jury, perhaps within the year.
But that's not the only legal predicament Skakel may face this year. Last October his wife of nine years, Margot, 37, sued Skakel for divorce. According to attorney Bruce Wagner, who represents Margot, a former golf pro turned full-time mom to the couple's 2-year-old son, George, the tensions at home have been amplified by the Moxley murder investigation. "Once reasonable cause has been found that one's spouse committed a murder, I would imagine it would be unsettling, and I'm sure Mrs. Skakel is no exception," says Wagner, 40. According to Wagner, Margot is also considering writing a tell-all book about her troubled marriage.
The long-dormant Moxley case perked up again in 1995, after discrepancies were discovered between Skakel's statements to police 20 years earlier and those he gave to a team of private investigators hired by his father to clear the family name in 1992. In the beginning authorities focused their attention largely on Thomas Skakel, now 42, Michael's older brother and the last person to admit seeing Moxley alive on Oct. 30, 1975. The high school sophomore failed to return home that night after hanging out with friends, and her body was found the next day, beaten with such force that a golf club used in the attack—part of a set belonging to the Skakel family—had broken into three pieces.
Thomas and Michael Skakel, who lived across the street from the Moxleys, were among those questioned by the police, but the investigation eventually stalled—critics say because of the police's deferential treatment of the wealthy Skakel family. Suffering from dyslexia and alcoholism, Michael Skakel—one of seven children of industrialist Rushton Skakel, now 77, and his first wife, Ann, who died of cancer in 1973—was arrested after a high-speed car chase in 1978. His father sent him to the Elan School, a private reform institution in Poland, Maine. There, according to a former student who testified last summer at a hearing in the case, Skakel allegedly admitted he had killed Moxley—although three other former Elan students then testified on Skakel's behalf.
In the absence of any physical evidence definitively linking Skakel to the crime, Skakel's so-called confession will likely be debated again when the matter goes to trial. While waiting, Michael and Margot Skakel have moved to the Upstate New York town of Windham, where they are fighting over custody of their son and their $290,000 house. Dorthy Moxley is also waiting. "I don't think it's going to be pleasant," she says of the prospect of a trial. "But whatever we have to do, we'll do it."
Jennifer Longley and Fannie Weinstein in Stamford and Tom Duffy in Windham