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The Skakel Curse

Michael Skakel is the quintessential Kennedy-style bad boy -- except for one thing: He couldn't keep his mouth shut.

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Last Monday morning, Michael Skakel stole a private moment in the men's room of the Norwalk Superior Court in Connecticut. Final arguments were being heard in the monthlong Martha Moxley murder trial, and in a courtroom with an accusatory media throng -- led by Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne and Murder in Greenwich's Mark Fuhrman -- the lavatory had become a cool-off tank for the perpetually sweaty Skakel. Looking up after splashing his face, he discovered a familiar one staring back at him in the mirror, that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A smile cracked Skakel's red-splotched features, and the two cousins came crushing together in a wordless embrace. It was a powerful hug that spoke of betrayal and family ties.  

RFK Jr. was the only Kennedy to have appeared at the trial, and it was a brief cameo. Tan, reed-thin, and smooth in a cool blue suit, he stole into the courtroom late in the morning, sitting far back from the Skakel family. By lunchtime, his duty done, he was gone. 

Of all the Kennedys who could have attended, it was appropriate that Bobby had stepped up. With his equine grin and environmental gravitas -- he's the chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper program -- he is the image of the good Kennedy man, having overcome some of the vices that have plagued his brothers and cousins. Skakel, meanwhile, embodies all the darkest Kennedy impulses. Yet there is one difference: Unlike even the most troubled of Kennedy men, Skakel is not a keeper of secrets.

While working for RFK Jr.'s late brother Michael at Citizens Energy in the mid-nineties, Skakel blew the lid off his affair with an underage baby-sitter, killing his cousin Joe's dream of the Massachusetts governorship. He then circulated a book proposal about it all, offering even more tantalizing nuggets, such as Bobby Jr.'s admitted belief that cousin William Kennedy Smith was indeed guilty of the Palm Beach rape.

As Skakel's high-powered defense team made clear, the forensic case against him was weak. No DNA, no fingerprints, no witnesses. Yet for twenty-odd years, that inability to keep his mouth shut has kept him at the scene of the crime. In the book proposal, at the Elan school, to friends, his barber, the family chauffeur -- the tone veering from confession to boast -- he always comes back to mischief night.

During the trial, the 41-year-old Skakel was a loose cannon, being reprimanded by the judge and acting at times like the wild teenager of lore. "That's fucking bullshit," he hissed last Wednesday as crucial testimony was repeated for the jury. Even after the guilty verdict was announced on Friday, he blurted out, "I'd like to say something." "No sir," the judge said quickly, and he was led out in handcuffs.

Skakel's estranged brother Tommy, the initial suspect in the case, wasn't there for the verdict -- he'd put in his sole supporting appearance earlier on. Lean and turned out in tweed, he seemed more college professor than blood relation. The two men exchanged a silent embrace, and then Tommy kissed his younger brother's cheek, before he too disappeared.


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