Tonight’s “The Kennedy Files” presented the third in its ten-part series devoted to America’s royal family on Reelz Channel. This episode is about “Notorious Cases,” that surrounded this family. Always high-profile, these drama-filled legal cases surrounded the Kennedys.
The Kennedys are a powerful lens in which to view America and when famous people break the rules, privilege seems to be a “get out of jail free” card. Michael Skakel nephew of Ethel and the late Bobby Kennedy was charged with bludgeoning a girl to death with a golf club in 1975, when he was just 15. It was a murder that took almost twenty-five years before a grand jury found enough evidence to convict him of the murder. However, after a trial, appeal and a new trial, he is now free on bond for $1.2 million along with other conditions: He must be monitored with a GPS device, cannot have contact with Moxley’s family, must periodically check in over the phone if need be, and is not allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November, 22, 1963, the outpouring of love and sympathy for the family were felt by the entire country. When Bobby Kennedy was killed, it was the same feeling across America. However, things come out behind the scenes making the Kennedy name a double-edged sword. So many private failings makes people’s tolerance fade away.
On July 18, 1969, when Senator Ted Kennedy was just 37, Ted was holding a gathering for the six women who worked on his Brother Bobby’s presidential campaign. It was held on a small island called Chappaquiddick, off Martha’s Vineyard. Ted offered to drive the 28-year-old unmarried Mary Jo Kopechne to the ferry slip, even though there was a chauffeur available. Kennedy took a sharp turn onto a dirt road instead of going to the ferry slip. This turn caused his car to go right into the water. His window was open, and he crawled out of the car to the surface. He tried to get her out of the car, but could not. He swam to his hotel room and fell asleep. The next day, when he reported the incident to police, the Edgartown police chief accepted his explanation that it was an accident. He was x-rayed and was found to have a huge hematoma on his head, and it was determined that he was in shock. The media swarmed to the Kennedy compound, and this incident could have signaled an end to the Kennedy mystique. Instead, the same people who advised JFK and Bobby wrote a crisis-management playbook that would follow the Kennedys for generations to come. Step one was to show remorse as Ted, his pregnant wife Joan and his mother Rose went to Mary Jo Kopechne’s funeral, and they sat directly across from her mother. Step two was to admit guilt and have your lawyer cut a deal. Despite cries of favoritism, Ted was given a two-month suspended sentence. Step three: go public with a carefully crafted message and throw himself at the mercy of the public. He then quoted from his Brother John’s book, Profiles in Courage. The following year, he was reelected.
Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had an affair and gave the mob a reason to murder her because of Bobby Kennedy’s attacks on organized crime when he was Attorney General. Back then, 20/20 was an aggressive news show, more so than 60 Minutes. Marilyn had told a former boyfriend that Bobby promised to marry her. More facts also came out, but Roone Arledge, who was in command of ABC would not let the facts come out. Edit after edit of the report was made until Arledge finally pulled the feature all together. He called it a sleazy piece of journalism, but it was, in fact; true that Marilyn had affairs with both Bobby and John Kennedy.
When celebrities go on trial, the media goes crazy. When William Kennedy Smith went on trial for rape, the Kennedy name attracted more negative attention. It was a hot summer night when Ted Kennedy took his nephew William and his son Patrick to a bar for drinks. They were at the Kennedy Compound in Palm Beach, Florida. They had a few drinks with some women there and they brought two women back to the Kennedy Estate. The next day, one of the women, Patricia Bowman filed rape charges against William Kennedy Smith. It was time to revise the Kennedy Crisis Management Playbook. Step one: take on the accuser. Normally, a rape victim’s name is not published, but in this case, it was. She had a child out of wedlock and had several abortions, which was reason to drag her through the mud. Step two: put a human face on the man behind the Kennedy name. In this case, Smith was a doctor, a family man, religious, an animal lover and a good-looking guy. His accolades were repeated over and over, while Patricia Bowman’s faults were there for all to see and hear.
Eight months after the alleged incident, the trail got under way. Court TV provided 24-hour coverage, and CNN devoted huge chunks of their nightly schedule, which set the precedent for 24-hour news. When Ted took the stand, he claimed that William’s father, Steve Smith, was like a brother to him and the family was very close-knit. When Ted mentioned Smith’s late father, a tear fell down William’s cheek to which his defense attorney wiped it away with his handkerchief. The jury deliberated only 77-minutes and found Smith not guilty of all charges. Journalist Dominick Dunne was appalled at the fact of the rich and famous getting away with crimes they commit.
In Greenwich, Connecticut, when Martha Moxley was murdered, it was incorrectly reported that William Kennedy Smith had been in the Skakel house the night of the murder. Dominick Dunne then wondered whatever happened to that case; and found that it had gone cold. He had also lost a daughter, Dominique, who was strangled by her boyfriend. Dunne told Mrs. Moxley that he could write a best seller that would bring attention to his daughter’s murder and wrote A Season in Purgatory. At a book signing, a person came to him and told Dunne that he knew something about the Moxley case. He was also writing a book about the incident and gave it to Mark Furman to write the story. When he was pronounced guilty, the courtroom was aghast; never expecting that he would be found guilty. Had Skakel not been related to the Kennedys, he would not have attracted attention of Dunne? Robert Kennedy Jr. considered it a modern-day witch hunt, and it was Skakel who was instrumental in helping Bobby Jr. get over his addiction earlier in his life. Bobby Jr. fought long and hard and after eleven years in prison, Skakel was released.