Fla. police recommend rape charge Kennedy estate case going to prosecutor

May 08, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA — PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Police will recommend that criminal charges be filed against William Kennedy Smith in connection with an alleged rape that occurred at the Kennedy compound here Easter weekend.

"We believe a crime occurred, and the recommendation will show that," Officer Craig Gunkel, a Palm Beach police spokesman, said yesterday. "We're sure a crime was committed. At this point, it's pretty clear what happened."

In a case that has drawn international attention, a 29-year-old Florida woman claimed that Mr. Smith, the nephew of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., tackled and raped her near the swimming pool at the Kennedy mansion here March 30 a few hours after the two were introduced at a Palm Beach club.

The 30-year-old Mr. Smith, a fourth-year medical student at Georgetown University in Washington, has called the allegation a "damnable lie," and yesterday members of the Kennedy family, including the senator, said they believed in Mr. Smith's innocence.

Officer Gunkel implied yesterday that police would recommend to State Attorney David Bludworth of Palm Beach County that Mr. Smith be charged with second-degree sexual battery, which carries a maximum jail penalty of 15 years.

Sexual battery is a felony and the equivalent of rape in other states.

The more serious charge of first-degree sexual battery includes allegations of armed force and "serious" physical injury.

"Looking at how the statute reads and what you read about the case, it's the most appropriate charge," Officer Gunkel said of the second-degree charge.

Then, growing coy, he added, "We're not confirming or denying anything. I agree it's being vague saying we're going to file charges and then not saying what they are."

He said police planned to submit a written report of their six-week investigation to Mr. Bludworth later

this week. Neither Mr. Bludworth nor Mark Schnapp, Mr. Smith's attorney, would comment on the police statement.

It will be up to Mr. Bludworth to decide the next course of action: whether to file criminal charges against Mr. Smith, to refer the allegations to a grand jury or to drop the case for lack of evidence.

Yesterday, several TV satellite trucks were parked outside the pale pink police headquarters in this exclusive seaside community that guards its privacy with the fierceness of a bulldog.

"Go away, go away," one society maven said on tony Worth jTC Avenue yesterday after a reporter began asking questions. "If it starts with a 'K' and ends with a 'Y,' I don't want to talk to you."

It is with some humiliation that Palm Beach residents have watched their stately resort provide titillation for the nation's tabloids these past weeks.

"It's just so annoying," said Jesse Newman, president of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce.

A small town with big money, Palm Beach houses the rich and richer in grand Mediterranean-style villas on this island where bronzed beauties wear furs and fine jewelry like second skins.

"This is a very private town. They're like the English. You're not somebody's new best friend here in five minutes," said Pat Booth, author of the steamy novel "Palm Beach" and a resident for 10 years.

"People here don't discuss the Kennedys, but what goes on in Palm Beach Day School or in Palm Beach charity," she said. "Honestly, people weren't interested in [President] Jack Kennedy. They're not going to be interested in Ted Kennedy and his offspring. There are many more powerful people in Palm Beach than the Kennedys."

The Palm Beach Daily News, known as "The Shiny Sheet" because of the smudge-proof paper it's printed on, currently is polling readers on their choices for the top stories of the just-ended winter season.

Among the contenders: the alleged rape at the seaside Kennedy estate; the disclosure that the former chairman of the local Landmarks Preservation Commission told his third wife that he murdered his second wife; a divorce and custody battle between French race car driver Count Jean de la Moussaye and his wife that involves allegations of self-mutilation, drug and alcohol abuse; and nude strolls along the beach.

"You can call us a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them," said Joyce Harr, editor of the Daily News.

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