Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was convicted today of bludgeoning to death Martha Moxley -- more than a quarter-century after the teenager's battered body was found lying beneath a Ponderosa pine on her family's estate in Greenwich.
Next to the 15-year-old's body lay pieces of a bloody golf club, a 6-iron.
Skakel, now a thick-waisted 41-year-old with graying hair and a boyish face, stood as the verdict was read, then peered at the jurors with a look of surprise. Later, he asked the judge if he could address the court.
"No, sir," the judge answered.
Skakel's attorneys tried to get the case heard in juvenile court, which would have meant no more than four years in prison. Now, Skakel could be sentenced to 10 years to life.
The announcement of a guilty verdict, after the jury had deliberated for more than three days, elicited a gasp from the crowded courtroom. Prosecutors wove a web of circumstantial evidence and Skakel's own comments, but they had no physical evidence or eyewitnesses linking defendant and deed.
Skakel's attorney, Michael "Mickey" Sherman, appeared ashen when the verdict was announced. He vowed to appeal. "It's the most upsetting verdict I will ever have in my life," he said. "As long as there is a breath in my body, this case is not over."
Martha's mother, Dorthy, wept and hugged prosecutor Jonathan Benedict. "Isn't it wonderful?" she asked. Her son, John Moxley, found less solace.
"This is a hollow victory," he said. "Victory does not bring Martha back."
Skakel is the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, and once boasted that his connections to the Kennedys would allow him to dance free from prosecutors.
Quite the opposite appears to have happened -- his family connections and notoriety kept the case alive, as authors and journalists returned to it again and again.
The trial offered a glimpse into a world of country clubs, nannies and yachts, where crime is rare, children are precocious and neighbors discreet. The median price of a house in Greenwich is more than $900,000.
The Skakels lived near the Moxleys in the gated community of Belle Haven. The Moxleys last saw Martha when she bounced out the door of her house, wearing a blue parka. It was the night before Halloween, Mischief Night in Greenwich, when children roam the estates, flitting in and out of shadows, stuffing toilet paper in mailboxes and soaping windows.
Police found her body the next morning, along with the pieces of the golf club. The club had come from the Skakel estate.
Witnesses, not least his brothers, said that Skakel had spent most of the night watching television and smoking marijuana elsewhere in Greenwich.
Police nonetheless suspected Skakel, who had a crush on Moxley, and his brother Tommy, who was dating Moxley and was the last person seen with her.
Some suspected the boys' live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton, who in 1976 failed a polygraph examination. Littleton was later convicted of burglary and larceny in Nantucket and suffers from depression.
He wound up testifying for the prosecution.
The boys' father, Rushton Skakel, was a prominent industrialist. Many police officers in town labored for the family in their off-hours as security guards and chauffeurs. And the father opened his door to the local constabulary during the investigation, serving investigators food and answering their questions.
But as their questioning persisted and grew more pointed, the Skakels' door gradually closed. In the early 1990s, the father hired a private investigative firm, Sutton Associates, to clear his sons' names. Instead, the firm placed Tommy with Moxley that night, engaged in sexual petting.
When Newsday reporter Len Levitt obtained these private reports, the case took a dark turn for the brothers.
Three authors produced books on the case, raising still more questions about their alibis. In June 1998, prosecutors announced that a one-judge grand jury had been appointed to examine the slaying again.
Then, Gregory Coleman, a former classmate of Skakel at a drug treatment center, stepped forward and testified that Skakel once told him: "I'm going to get away with murder because I'm a Kennedy."
Coleman later acknowledged that he was high on heroin when he testified. He has since died of a heroin overdose. But the judge permitted prosecutors to read Coleman's pretrial testimony into the record.
Skakel did not testify, but prosecutors produced the tape of an interview he gave to a ghostwriter in 1997. On the tape, Skakel said he walked over to the Moxley estate late on Mischief Night 27 years ago, thinking: "Martha likes me. I'll go get a kiss from Martha. I'll be bold tonight."
Skakel said he climbed a tree and threw sticks and rocks at Moxley's window and yelled her name. Eventually, he climbed down and ran home.
This account contradicted one Skakel gave years earlier, when he told investigators he was miles from the scene of the crime.
Though the case remained circumstantial, dependent on the testimony of the dead and the mentally unbalanced, prosecutor Benedict was credited with tying each thread together in a masterful summation.
Despite Sherman's reaction to the verdict, legal experts said the defense attorney should have seen trouble coming.
"Juries have a natural reluctance to let deaths go unpunished," said Mark Biros, a former U.S. attorney and managing partner for the law firm Proskauer Rose in the District. "He had a conflicting alibi, and the defense was unable to convince the jury of a credible alternative perpetrator."
Benedict said simply that Skakel "really hung himself on his own petard."
Dorthy Moxley, after a battle of nearly three decades to find her daughter's killer, had maintained a constant and dignified presence in the courtroom through the trial.
Afterward, she spoke of her empathy for the Skakels and their pain. But mostly she spoke of her daughter. "This is Martha's day," she said. "This is truly Martha's day. I hope that people remember that."
Powell reported from New York, McCallum from Norwalk.