In the Skakel Case, 2 Women on 2 Sides in an Endless Vigil

For more than a decade, they have
driven themselves to court hearings, sat
a few feet apart through countless
hours of harrowing testimony, and
exchanged cordial greetings, if not
quite warm ones.
Dorthy Moxley comes for her daughter,
Martha Moxley , who was just 15 in
1975 when she was beaten to death
with a golf club outside their home in
Greenwich, Conn., in a sensational
murder case that captivated the public
with its trappings of wealth and
dysfunction.
Ann Skakel McCooey comes for Michael
C. Skakel, the man who was convicted
of the killing. He is her nephew — her
brother’s son — whom she remembered
fondly as a skinny boy with an
infectious laugh and whom she grew to
love as one of her own as she opened
her home to him, then began visiting
him in prison on a regular basis and
became, with his parents gone, his
staunchest defender.
These two mothers once lived in the
same town, came from similar
privilege, and could easily have been
friends under different circumstances.
Instead, they have spent years holding
parallel vigils over the case, and after a
ruling this week granting Mr. Skakel a
new trial, are likely to be in each
other’s company for a long time
coming.
“I think Michael Skakel is very
fortunate to have someone like Ann
McCooey there to support him — this
has taken a toll on her,” Mrs. Moxley
said. “We are — how shall I say this —
we are civil to each other but I would
not say we are friends.”
Mrs. Moxley, now 81, said she does not
have any doubt that Mr. Skakel, who
was sentenced to a prison term of 20
years to life, killed her daughter and is
prepared to go to court for as long as it
takes. “What I have done is what any
mother would do,” said Mrs. Moxley,
who learned about the judge’s decision
on Wednesday after having back
surgery in the morning. “You have to
stick up for your kids and I think when
someone has done something wrong
they should own up to it and take their
punishment and Michael Skakel did not
do that.”
Mrs. Moxley moved to Summit, N.J., in
the early 1990s to be closer to her son’s
family after her husband, David, a
managing director of a large New York
law firm, died from a heart attack. He
is buried in a cemetery in Greenwich
beside their daughter.
During the trial and after, Mrs. Moxley
said, she has driven the hour-plus trip
to Connecticut in her Lexus sedan,
accompanied by a sister-in-law, Mary
Jo Rahatz, who flies in from Kansas.
“I’ve done it so many times I know
what lane to get into and when,” she
said.
She said she had to come not only for
her daughter but also to show her
support and appreciation for the many
people she calls her “angels” —
detectives, lawyers, reporters, among
others — who all had a part in the case
over the years or kept writing about it.
The author Dominick Dunne , who
became a friend, was a fixture at the
trial and wrote a best seller about the
case.
For a while after Mr. Skakel’s
conviction in 2002, Mrs. Moxley said,
she thought she might be able to finally
move on with her life. But she quickly
realized that would not be possible.
Instead there were more court hearings
to attend over Mr. Skakel’s appeals and
parole. “It’s a tough lesson to learn but
you realize it never goes away,” she
said.
She blames Mr. Skakel for that, too. “If
I let myself think about it, I’m
extremely angry with him,” she said.
When Mrs. Moxley is not driving to
court, she said she goes to the
symphony and Broadway shows, and
out to dinner because she loves food.
She added that she has become
something of a “TV junkie,” and
watches tennis, football and baseball,
including the first game of the World
Series on Wednesday night.
Mrs. McCooey, 80, raised a son and
daughter on her own after a divorce.
Mrs. McCooey did not work outside the
home — the Skakel family business,
Great Lakes Carbon, a carbon coke
manufacturer, was once one of the
largest private companies in the
country — and she supported worthy
causes, which included raising money
for an abbey in Kentucky and helping
to start a student retreat program at
Georgetown University, which her
husband and son attended.
Mrs. McCooey stepped in to help Mr.
Skakel because his father, Rushton, had
moved to Florida and was not in good
health. Mr. Skakel’s mother had died of
cancer when he was young and
Rushton Skakel died in 2003. Mrs.
McCooey, like Rushton Skakel, is a
sister of Ethel Kennedy, Robert F.
Kennedy’s widow, a family tie that
amplified the public’s fascination with
the case.
“It hasn’t been a hard time for me,”
Mrs. McCooey said Thursday. “It’s who
you’re meant to be. I’m blessed with a
lot of love from my kids and from
Michael.”
During the 2002 trial, Mrs. McCooey,
who lived in a five-bedroom house in
Greenwich, invited Mr. Skakel and
relatives to stay with her. She made
sure there was breakfast and dinner.
She paid for a driver to ferry Mr.
Skakel back and forth to court, and
posted guards around her home to
shield him as much as possible from
any ugliness.
Throughout the trial, she sat in the
courtroom and listened stoically as her
nephew’s life was dissected by
prosecutors, often in embarrassing
detail. Mr. Dunne said that she once
called the author a “jerk,” and there
were other media reports that she
muttered a derogatory comment to
Mrs. Moxley’s son, all of which she has
denied.
Said John McCooey Jr., her son: “My
mother became extremely devoted to
Michael, formed an incredible
emotional bond, and really grew to
love him. The thing that drove her was
understanding Michael’s situation and
coming to know him as a person and
connecting to the little kid she knew.
Her heart opened up to him.”
Mrs. McCooey later moved from
Greenwich to nearby Bedford, N.Y.,
where she has continued to host friends
and relatives in a never-ending
campaign to seek her nephew’s release.
At least once a month, she has visited
Mr. Skakel in prison, always with Mr.
Skakel’s younger brother Stephen.
Mrs. McCooey said in addition to
visiting her nephew, she exchanges
letters with him several times a month.
She said he once wrote her a letter
saying, “I don’t know whether to say,
‘Dear Aunt, Dear Mom, Dear Sister or
Dear Best Friend.’ You are all those
things to me.”
In court, Mrs. McCooey and Mrs.
Moxley acknowledge each other;
during a hearing this year, Mrs.
McCooey even gave Mrs. Moxley her
arm to hold onto as they walked down
the courthouse steps.
Their next chance to meet may come
soon. Prosecutors have said they will
appeal this week’s ruling, by Judge
Thomas A. Bishop, that Mr. Skakel had
had ineffective representation and thus
deserved a new trial. On Thursday, Mr.
Skakel’s new lawyers requested a
hearing so that he could be granted bail
and freed
Mrs. McCooey said that earlier this
year she saw Mrs. Moxley at the
University Club in Manhattan and even
went over to say hello. “I will not be
rude to her, there’s no reason to be,”
she said. “And she’s suffering.”
“I think she is a mother who has lost
her child and wants justice,” Mrs.
McCooey said.
But as for her nephew, she said,
“Absolutely, I know he’s innocent.”