National News

Four Decades After Martha Moxley’s Murder, Her Mother Says ‘It’s Enough’

Posted May 5, 2018 6:07 p.m. EDT

Dorthy Moxley had tears in her eyes as she hugged her son, John, in the courtroom. More than 25 years after her daughter Martha had been beaten to death, a jury had found a man guilty of killing her. She told an interviewer that the day had felt like a dream and she feared she would wake up. John later said the verdict came as long-awaited relief; he was “just glad it was done.”

Over the nearly 16 years afterward, though, the case was anything but over. The man who had been convicted, Michael C. Skakel, waged an appeal that grew into a legal fight that stretched years and came with twist after twist. His conviction was overturned by one court and reinstated by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Then, Friday, the high court reversed its own decision, vacating Skakel’s conviction for the 1975 murder.

The experience has been “just like a yo-yo,” Dorthy Moxley said in a telephone interview Saturday morning. The ruling Friday was a disappointment. Still, she added: “I’m just so conditioned to this happening and then something else happening. If something else happens, it won’t surprise me in the least.”

For decades, the case has been a media sensation, grabbing headlines with the details of a gruesome murder in one of the country’s most affluent suburbs, a suspect with ties to the Kennedy family and questions about the influence of wealth and privilege in the criminal justice system.

Through it all, Dorthy Moxley, 86, has been a steady presence. In the early years, following the advice of the police, she talked to journalists and did anything else she could to help attract attention as investigators searched for answers. Later, she sat through a trial and attended hearing after hearing, there to represent her daughter, who was 15 when she was killed.

This time, though, as prosecutors weigh whether to try Skakel again for the 4-decade-old crime, Moxley said she is satisfied that she has advocated for justice on her daughter’s behalf and helped prosecutors by keeping the case in the public eye.

“I did all those things,” Moxley said. “But I don’t feel as though that’s my job now. We got him arrested and convicted and put in jail. It isn’t my job now. It’s enough. It’s enough.”

Her daughter was killed Oct. 30, 1975, her body found under a pine tree on her family’s estate. She had been struck with a steel golf club with enough force to break the club, and a piece of the shaft was used to stab her through the neck.

The Moxley family lived in Belle Haven, a gated community of estates in Greenwich, on the Connecticut coast. Her father, a partner in a large accounting firm, had moved the family to Greenwich only about 18 months before. Martha, a high school sophomore, had just tried out for the cheerleading squad. Her classmates had voted her the girl with the “best personality.”

The Skakels were their neighbors. Michael Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, was one of seven children left largely unsupervised by their father, who had been widowed after their mother had died a few years earlier from cancer.

After Dorthy Moxley could not find her daughter on the day she disappeared, she knocked on the Skakels’ door. She said it was the first time she had been over; she had been frightened by their dog. Skakel, who was also 15, answered. “He looked hung over,” she recalled. “He was barefoot, in a pair of jeans and did not look good at all.”

Skakel was not arrested in Martha Moxley’s killing until he was in his late 30s. He was convicted after a three-week trial that turned largely on circumstantial evidence. Investigators had recovered part of the golf club, a 6-iron from a set that had belonged to Skakel’s mother. But prosecutors had no direct physical evidence tying Skakel to the killing, and he claimed he was miles from the murder scene at a cousin’s house, watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Even so, jurors later said they were convinced by incriminating statements he had made, as well as his erratic behavior.

Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the murder. He was released in 2013, after spending more than a decade in prison. A judge overturned his conviction after finding that his lawyer during the trial had not provided effective representation. Skakel’s new legal team has argued that his former lawyer had failed to call a key witness who could have confirmed his alibi and that his older brother, Thomas Skakel, could have been the culprit.

The Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated the conviction in 2016. But the court, at the request of Skakel’s lawyers, reviewed its own decision and reversed it. (The makeup of the court changed with the retirement of the justice who wrote the majority opinion in the last ruling.)

Skakel’s legal team, in a statement issued Friday, praised the court’s decision, saying it had done “the right thing.” The lawyers also said that Skakel, who maintains that he is innocent, had been “unjustly imprisoned.”

The Moxleys, however, remain certain of Skakel’s guilt. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he did it,” Dorthy Moxley said. John Moxley, her 59-year-old son, said that the jury’s verdict in the 2002 trial, which they reached after hearing the evidence against Skakel, continued to give him reassurance. “There’s a comfort level on our part that we know what happened,” he said.

The murder has hung over their lives for more than 40 years. At first, there were no answers as the investigation stalled. Then, there was the tumult as the case made its way through the court system. (J. David Moxley, Martha’s father, died in 1988.)

During that time, the family said, they have withstood the emotional turbulence with the support of friends and even strangers, like the ones who have approached Dorthy Moxley on the street in New York City and given her a hug. The family said they were grateful for the diligence shown by the police and prosecutors — “they worked so long and hard on this,” Dorthy Moxley said.

She has chosen to maintain a positive outlook, even in the face of setbacks, including the ruling Friday.

“You can still go on,” she said. “You don’t have to bury your head in the sand. You get up and greet the day. You still have your loved one in your heart, and you don’t ever stop crying.”

On Friday evening, not long after learning of the ruling, John Moxley still went ahead with plans to go to a concert, while Dorthy Moxley went to a dinner party hosted by a neighbor in her apartment building. She talked about the disappointing development briefly with her friends. But there were plenty of interesting people at the party, she said, and the conversation swiftly moved on.