WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., whose wish for a nightcap last Easter weekend helped set the William Kennedy Smith rape case into motion, testified yesterday in his nephew's trial.
But what he said in his long-awaited appearance in Judge Mary E. Lupo's courtroom was longer on wistfulness over the family's dead than on information relevant to the case. Moreover, what information he produced was less helpful to the prosecution, which had called him as its witness, than to the defense.
After the senator finished his 40 minutes of testimony, his youngest son, Patrick, was called to the stand and supplied more significant testimony. He offered a chronology of events substantially different from that of Mr. Smith's accuser, setting the stage for Mr. Smith's own testimony when the defense begins presenting its case.
The younger Kennedy, a state representative in Rhode Island, told the court that early on the morning of March 30, he encountered Mr. Smith saying goodbye to his eventual accuser shortly before she drove away from the Kennedy family estate in Palm Beach.
Then, as the two cousins walked to the house together, Patrick Kennedy said, Mr. Smith described what he called the bizarre experiences he hadjust had with the woman.
"He told me he was quite exasperated because the woman was saying all sorts of strange things," the younger Kennedy recalled. He said these included referring to Mr. Smith by the wrong name, demanding to see his driver's license, yelling at him and insisting she had been to the Kennedy compound before. In earlier court documents, Patrick Kennedy had described the woman as "a 'Fatal Attraction' type."
Patrick Kennedy then related how, only about two minutes after the woman had ostensibly driven away, he and Mr. Smith were "startled" to find the woman inside the Kennedy house.
He said Mr. Smith asked her if she wanted to talk, then went "amicably" with her into another room and closed the door. When Mr. Smith rejoined him 45 minutes later, Mr. Kennedy said, he reiterated how "really strange" the woman was, noting that for some reason she had summoned her friends to the house and had threatened to call the police.
By Sunday evening, Mr. Kennedy said, his cousin had grown worried. "It sounds like a setup," he recalled Mr. Smith saying.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Moira K. Lasch questioned Senator Kennedy extensively on his visit to Au Bar, a Palm Beach club, in the early morning hours of March 30. Accompanying the senator to the nightspot were his son Patrick and Mr. Smith, and it was there that Mr. Smith met the woman who is now accusing him of rape.
The senator said he had decided to go to the bar around midnight, in part to combat the melancholy and insomnia of a day spent reminiscing about Stephen E. Smith, his late brother-in-law and the defendant's father. The Easter weekend, he said, had been the first time he had gathered with his family since the elder Smith's death in August 1990.
What the senator told the prosecutor, Mrs. Lasch, about what happened later at the estate only fortified his nephew's case.
Mr. Smith's accuser has testified that when he attacked her on the lawn in front of the compound, she screamed repeatedly. Mrs. Lasch asked the senator whether he had heard anything after retiring for the night, whether he had heard any screams and whether he had heard any noises in the house. To all three, the senator replied, "No, I did not."
Mr. Smith's chief defense counsel, Roy E. Black, seized on the issue in his cross-examination. He produced a diagram showing the position of the senator's bedroom in the house and how it opened onto the front lawn and the pool.
He asked the senator whether the window was open -- he said it was -- and whether he had used a fan that might have drowned out any noise. "There's one available, but I don't use it," he said.