August 8, 2001

Overdose Kills Witness in Kennedy Kin Murder Trial

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (Reuters) -- A key prosecution witness in the murder trial of Kennedy family relative Michael Skakel has died of a drug overdose, police said on Wednesday.

An officer reached by telephone at the Rochester, New York, police department confirmed that Gregory Coleman -- who had testified that he heard Skakel twice confess to killing his teen-age neighbor Martha Moxley 25 years ago -- had died of a drug overdose. The officer declined to give further details.

Skakel attorney Mickey Sherman also said that he had heard of Coleman's death.

``I wasn't shocked, but I was certainly surprised,'' Sherman said. ``He was a very nice young man who obviously had a drug problem going back very many years.''

``But you know he lost a battle with drugs,'' he added.

Prosecutors in the case could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, Coleman admitted at a hearing to determine whether Skakel should be tried in Moxley's death that he had used heroin just before giving his testimony to the grand jury that indicted Skakel.

Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of assassinated U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

A Connecticut judge ruled in April that there was enough evidence for Skakel to stand trial for allegedly killing Moxley. A hearing on pretrial motions is scheduled for Wednesday.

Coleman said he took heroin at a hotel when about to appear before Judge George Thim of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, Superior Court. It was an 18-month investigation by Thim that led to Skakel's indictment in January 2000 for Moxley's murder.

Coleman testified more recently at a pretrial hearing held to decide whether Skakel should be tried as an adult for the crime he allegedly committed as a juvenile. Coleman said he heard Skakel confess twice to Moxley's murder when the two men were attending the Elan School, a substance-abuse treatment center in Poland Springs, Maine, from 1978 to 1980.

Sherman said that he did not place much weight on Coleman's testimony because of his drug habit. ``I never thought that he was that valuable a witness, given the nature of what he said,'' Sherman commented.

Copyright 2001. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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