Prosecutor's questions target Kennedy name

ROGER SIMON

December 11, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Though William Kennedy Smith appeared to be all alone in the witness box at his rape trial yesterday, in reality his whole family is on trial with him.

And just how much Moira Lasch, the prosecutor of Smith, detests that family became clear quickly.

Early on in her cross-examination of Smith, Lasch asked him what sports he had played as a youth.

The question has no real relevancy to whether he did or did not rape the alleged victim, but that is not what Lasch was going for.

Smith replied he had played a sport or two in grammar school and in high school.

"And you play touch football don't you?" Lasch sneered.

Smith said, yes, he did play touch football.

Of course he did. We all know the Kennedys play touch football. It is one of their trademarks.

And with that one phrase, Lasch sought to bring into play all the other images that come to mind when the name Kennedy is invoked: rich, powerful, wastrels, drunkards, womanizers.

Then, after almost five hours of questioning in which Lasch did not manage to shake Smith's denial of having raped anyone on the morning in question, she asked Smith if he was used to swimming in cold water because he lived "up north."

Again it was a question that had little relevance to the case. But, again, there was something behind Lasch's question.

"You swim at Hyannis Port, don't you?" Lasch said contemptuously.

Smith replied that actually he had spent very little time at Hyannis Port.

But Lasch had done what she wanted to do: She had linked Smith to the famed Kennedy compound in Massachusetts where the family frolics.

Even the way in which the two sides referred to the Kennedy dwelling at Palm Beach, the scene of the alleged crime, was instructive.

To Smith and his lawyers, the dwelling was always the Kennedy "home."

To Moira Lasch, the dwelling was always the Kennedy "estate."

And all of Lasch's repeated, mind-numbing questions about the fees paid to each defense witness were designed to say to the jury: These Kennedys are rich people. They think they can buy anything. Even your verdict.

At first glance, it seems that Lasch has failed to offer one important thing to the jurors: She has never presented them with a motive for Will Smith doing what he allegedly did.

Why did Smith commit this alleged crime? After all, the alleged victim testified that Smith had been a perfect gentleman up until the moment of the alleged rape. And that is why she felt safe following him into his house and down to the beach at that early hour of the morning.

So why did Smith change, in a flash, from a perfect gentleman to a ravening beast?

Why? Because he is a Kennedy, that's why.

And that is why dirtying up the Kennedys is so important to Lasch. She must establish to the jury that one reason Will Smith acted the way he did is because Kennedys do things like this. They operate by special rules, their own rules. They are takers. They are users. They drown young women at Chappaquiddick, and they rape young women on lawns.

They don't care about other people. They care only about members of their own "clan."

Because how else can the prosecution explain why not a single (( member of the Kennedy family responded to the screams of the alleged victim that morning?

The alleged victim says she screamed repeatedly. And while the prosecution has tried to build a case for noisy surf drowning out those screams, this has never seemed very credible.

So the jury must ponder whether Will Smith's mother, uncle, cousin, sister, etc. heard screaming from the lawn outside their open windows and then did nothing.

Would any family behave in such an irrational, cruel, careless or depraved manner?

Well, maybe the Kennedys would. That is what the prosecution wants the jury to think. Maybe the Kennedys would do such a terrible thing to protect one of their own. This is how awful they are.

But this is also where the prosecution made a grave error in its cross-examination of Smith.

Lasch asked Will Smith how he possibly could have had voluntary sex with the alleged victim under the open window of his mother's room, as he said he did. Lasch was implying that no son would do such a thing and, therefore, it was not believable.

But if the Kennedys are such awful people, maybe they have sex in all sorts of odd places, even under the possible gaze of their parents.

And, much more importantly, if Lasch does not believe Smith would have voluntary sex under his mother's open window, how on earth can Lasch believe Smith would rape a woman under his mother's open window?

It was a serious slip on Lasch's part, though we do not know whether the defense will exploit it in its closing argument to the jury.

(Floyd Abrams, the noted constitutional lawyer, said on Court TV of Moira Lasch even before her gaffe: "This is the World Series and you're seeing a Class C pitcher." The jury may not see it the same way, of course.)

But if Lasch seeks to use some kind of generalized Kennedy behavior as one of her motives for Smith's alleged actions, what does the defense claim is the motive for the alleged victim to lie?

The defense may argue that her very powerful and heart-wrenching performance on the stand is so convincing because it is a psychological "flashback" (a word the alleged victim used herself) to an earlier, real rape at the hands of the mysterious "Michael," the name she admits she called Will Smith after the alleged rape.

What triggered this flashback? Smith called her "Kathy" while they were having sex, which is not her name. And this, the defense may argue, grievously offended her and set her off.

He calls her Kathy. She calls him Michael. It seems nobody can get anybody's name right in this case.

Except one name, that is: Kennedy.

And from the beginning to the end, this has been the name that has really counted in this trial.

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