Fla. prosecutor attacks Kennedy over deposition

June 20, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The chief prosecutor in the William Kennedy Smith rape case charged in a court hearing yesterday that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his son, Rhode Island legislator Patrick Kennedy, had doctored their own depositions to favor the defense.

The prosecutor, Moira Lasch, said second versions of the two depositions contained "subtle" but "substantive" changes in the men's recollections of what happened the night Mr. Smith is alleged to have raped a 29-year-old Florida woman.

Mark Schnapp, Mr. Smith's attorney, denied the allegation and said Ms. Lasch's animosity toward Senator Kennedy had colored her prosecutorial conduct.

Furthermore, Mr. Schnapp said, the alleged victim had given differing versions of her own story about the alleged attack in five separate statements to police.

He suggested to Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Mary Lupo that the woman had been coached by prosecutors to make her story more believable, saying that later statements "magically conformed" to those made by other witnesses.

The woman has claimed that Mr. Smith, the 30-year-old nephew of Senator Kennedy, D-Mass., raped her at the Kennedy seaside compound March 30, the night they met.

Late yesterday, Judge Lupo issued a gag order in the widely watched case, asking prosecutors, police, defense attorneys, court employees and investigators to refrain from discussing the trial with reporters. Defense attorneys had sought the gag, saying Mr. Smith's right to a fair trial was in jeopardy because of the extensive pretrial publicity.

Judge Lupo said that she wasn't blaming anyone about the pretrial publicity but that the court "is deeply concerned with how the release of the alleged victim's polygraph results, generally inadmissible at trial, has polluted the prospective panel."

Yesterday's brief hearing was a win for the defense: Judge Lupo kept from the official court record a book about Senator Kennedy that Ms. Lasch had tried to introduce as evidence, and the judge yielded to a defense request to postpone a hearing on motions to dismiss the case.

The book, "Senatorial Privilege," by Leo Damore, offers a critical account of Mr. Kennedy's actions after his car plunged off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., in 1969, killing a passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ms. Lasch said the book demonstrated the powers of "the Kennedy organization," adding that "that machine is apparently available to William Kennedy Smith."

Ms. Lasch raised questions about the depositions, which she had taken herself during interviews with Senator Kennedy and his son in New York on May 1.

Apparently, the changes -- primarily dealing with the timing of events -- were made on copies of the depositions submitted to the senator and his son for corrections of such things as spellings. The two depositions were retyped and flown to Palm Beach by a Kennedy emissary, she said.

"I found this procedure unusual," Ms. Lasch said, "and manipulative."

Defense attorneys have asked that the case be dismissed on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct and prejudicial publicity.

Judge Lupo agreed to postpone a hearing on the dismissal until just before the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 5. She said she would not permit a delay of the trial.

Meanwhile, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics in Washington dismissed yesterday a conservative organization's complaint against Senator Kennedy alleging that he broke Senate rules in his actions related to the Smith case, the Associated Press reported.

The committee wrote to the Conservative Campaign Fund, which alleged that Senator Kennedy failed to cooperate with Palm Beach authorities, that it was only empowered to investigate the conduct of senators and Senate officials "in the performance of their duties."

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