A Simmering Scandal

THE YOUNG WOMAN was a regular babysitter for Michael Kennedy's three children. She may have been Michael's illicit lover as well. Now she must decide whether she will be a witness against him in court. If the answer is yes-and it could come as early as this week- Kennedy may well be charged with statutory rape: having sex with a minor under the age of 16, a felony in Massachusetts. Kennedy's lawyers let slip-perhaps intention-ally-that their client has passed a lie-detector test on the question of whether he slept with the family's underage babysitter. Kennedy friends say Michael has wanted to make some kind of statement, but his lawyers advised against it.

As a matter of law, the woman--who has never been named in the newspapers-could be compelled to testify. The district attorney couldjust subpoena her and put her under oath. But prosecutors rarely take this step in sex crimes. "As a practical matter, you always respect the wishes of the victim," Norfolk County District Attorney Jeffrey Locke, who is investigatingthe case, told a local paper.

So Michael's fate is in the hands of a 19-year-old Boston University freshman and her family. They are described by a spokesperson as "former friends" of Michael Kennedy and his wife, Vicki. The father, who has been named in the press, was a contributor to Kennedy campaigns and even served on the board of Michael's company, Citizens Energy. But there was obviously turmoil within the girl's family, possibly over the daughter's alleged affair: last November, police and fire-men responded to a "possible jumper" call and found the mother wandering on the roof of the family's pied-a-terre in Boston; the daughter told them her mother had been off her medication. Newspaper accounts have portrayed Michael as obsessed with the girl, initially refusing to accept a breakup.

At first, the family simply wanted the Kennedy case to disappear. A therapist advised the young woman against going through the ordeal of testifying about her private life in court. But a family spokesperson confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the woman may cooperate after all. Michael himself has not talked to the D.A., although he did comply with a request to turn over credit-card receipts.

Locke is in a delicate situation. He doesn't want to seem to be rolling over for the Kennedy machine. On the other hand, Locke, who is a Republican, doesn't want to appear overzealous or politically motivated. The press, naturally, has shown little restraint. A tabloid reporter was accused of driving Vicki Kennedy off the road, and the placid suburban town of Cohasset has been overrun by camera crews. Michael, who is living at home though he is separated from his wife, draws notice whenever he ventures out. If the girl agrees to testify, Michael, who has already had his picture on the cover of People magazine, could become an even more familiar face. Massachusetts permits cameras in the courtroom.

A Simmering Scandal | News