Obstruction charges may be lodged in Smith case Palm Beach police say they were misled at Kennedy estate while probing rape charge.

August 30, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Prosecutors are hinting strongly that a grand jury would meet today to debate possible obstruction charges against one or more house guests at the Kennedy family estate over Easter weekend.

Jack Freese, spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, offered the tip in an interview yesterday.

tTC The obstruction inquiry stems from complaints by Palm Beach ** police that they were misled when they tried to interview William Kennedy Smith one day after a woman accused him of rape.

Smith, 30, faces a January trial on battery and sexual battery charges.

In the interview yesterday, Freese downplayed a report in the Boston Herald that Palm Beach police had finished their ob

struction investigation and turned their files over to prosecutors.

"It's an ongoing investigation; we're still working with Palm Beach police on this case," Freese said. "It's not like [police] have washed their hands of it."

Freese would not comment on his office's next move. "But," he said, "you might want to check to see if the grand jury meets tomorrow."

Freese would not elaborate. "We can't confirm what cases go to the grand jury," he said. He also would not say how many people were being investigated.

The most likely target would be William Barry, a longtime friend of the Kennedys and a former FBI agent. Barry greeted two Palm Beach detectives at the estate on Easter Sunday, one day after the incident.

According to the detectives, Barry told them that Smith had already left Florida and that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Smith's uncle, was not at the house. In fact, Smith did not leave town until later that afternoon, and Kennedy was in the vicinity and flew back to Washington the next day.

Barry later called his conversation with police a misunderstanding.

"I did not attempt to mislead anybody," Barry said in a statement. He said police wanted to talk to the senator "about a vase that had been stolen from the house . . . They asked if the senator or Will Smith was there and I wasn't sure, people were coming and going. They said fine, they would check back later."

A second, more remote, obstruction target could be the senator himself. Police complained that Kennedy did not return several phone calls that weekend.

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