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RFK Jr. amps up defense of cousin in 1975 murder

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke about his new book, "Framed," on Monday.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke about his new book, "Framed," on Monday. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says that he is certain who killed teenager Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Conn., 40 years ago — and that the murderer is not his cousin Michael Skakel, who spent more than a decade in prison for the crime.

Instead, the killers were two Bronx youths who traveled to the wealthy enclave for pre-Halloween mischief and have never been pursued seriously by authorities, Kennedy said Monday in an interview at the Globe.

Moxley, a 15-year-old, was pummeled with a golf club and stabbed repeatedly with its broken shaft in her yard after spending time at the neighboring Skakel property on the evening of Oct. 30, 1975.

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The premise that Skakel was victimized by ambitious prosecutors, a corrupt investigation, and reckless news media forms much of the spine of “Framed,” a new book in which Kennedy attempts to clear the name of his first cousin, who is free on bail pending a review of his case by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Kennedy, a former prosecutor, dissects the case witness by witness, suspect by suspect, and lawyer by lawyer.

“No one was asking the right questions, such as how could Michael Skakel have committed this murder if he were 11 miles away,” said Kennedy, son of the former US senator and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.

State criminal justice officials have attacked the book as “baseless.”

In “Framed,” Kennedy writes that the Bronx teenagers — Adolph Hasbrouck, who later lived in Bridgeport; and Burton Tinsley, who moved to Portland, Ore. — have told conflicting or vague stories of whether they were in Moxley’s neighborhood on the night she died.

However, Kennedy said that a one-time friend of those two men — Gitano “Tony” Bryant, the cousin of former NBA great Kobe Bryant — told him that he accompanied the pair to Greenwich that night, and that they later boasted in graphic detail of having committed an assault “caveman style.”

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Kennedy wrote that “while Adolph and Burr never mentioned the victim by name, it was obvious that they were talking about Martha.”

According to the book, Bryant told Kennedy: “I knew exactly who they were talking about. They were talking about Martha Moxley. They were bragging.”

Michael Skakel left a Stamford, Conn., courthouse in November 2013 after his 2002 murder conviction was vacated.
Michael Skakel left a Stamford, Conn., courthouse in November 2013 after his 2002 murder conviction was vacated.Spencer Platt/Getty Images/File

The state has fired back at Kennedy and his reliance on Bryant, whom one judge in this long case has called not credible. A Superior Court judge rejected Skakel’s argument that Bryant’s testimony justified a new trial, noting no other witnesses backed up Bryant’s story.

“The Division of Criminal Justice as a matter of course does not comment on pending matters. In the interest of justice, however, the division is compelled to respond to the highly inflammatory and baseless nature of Mr. Kennedy’s latest allegation,” the division wrote in a statement.

“Mr. Skakel’s conviction followed a lengthy and meticulous process,’’ the statement added. “Throughout the grand jury investigation and two other preliminary hearings, the state was required to submit its evidence to judicial scrutiny, and each time our evidence of guilt passed muster.”

Hasbrouck’s lawyer, Lawrence Schoenbach of New York, added Monday that his client is innocent.

“Mr. Hasbrouck had nothing to do with Martha Moxley’s murder, and we wish to have nothing to do with Mr. Kennedy’s book tour,” Schoenbach said.

Tinsley could not be reached for comment.

Skakel, whose father was Ethel Kennedy’s brother, was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for Moxley’s murder. In 2013, an appellate judge overturned the conviction on the grounds that Skakel received an inadequate defense from Michael “Mickey” Sherman, a flashy lawyer who made no secret of his love for the limelight.

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Kennedy said that Skakel, now 55, is racked by anxiety. He is caring for an ailing aunt in Westchester County, N.Y., while he awaits a ruling on that appellate decision by the state’s high court.

He wears a GPS ankle bracelet and could return to prison or face the possibility of a new trial depending on the ruling.

In “Framed,” Kennedy paints a tawdry picture of overambitious prosecutors, cowed reporters who peddled the “catnip” of a Kennedy cousin linked to murder, and crooked police who induced perjury from witnesses.

There also is this, Kennedy said: “In Michael’s mind, he would not have had this trouble if not for his tangential relationship with the Kennedy family.”

In their zeal to convict, he said, prosecutors leveraged emotion and the daily media spectacle to sway jurors who had no physical evidence to tie Skakel to the murder. Family members and other witnesses placed him miles away at the time some medical witnesses said Moxley most likely was killed.

The prosecution relied heavily on confessions that Skakel allegedly had made to classmates at a Maine school for troubled youths.

“The lawyer in me does not want a new trial because you can be convicted no matter how good the evidence,” Kennedy said. “The cousin in me would like to see the trial because for the first time the press will be able to cover the real story.”

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Jonathan Benedict, who prosecuted the case, was asked Monday for his reaction to the book.

“I like fiction,” he said, before adding that “I’m not going to get into a pie fight and give any suggestion that he has any credibility.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. contends in his book that prosecutors ignored evidence in Martha Moxley’s murder.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. contends in his book that prosecutors ignored evidence in Martha Moxley’s murder.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.