William Kennedy Smith

‘No One Would Believe Her’

May 20, 1991 | Newsweek
Page: 31 | Section: NATIONAL AFFAIRS
884 Words




A young Kennedy is charged with rape, while new questions surface about the senator’s behavior

The affidavit told the story of an early-morning walk on the beach that went horribly wrong: she tried to flee, but he tackled her from behind, pinned her hands, pulled her dress up, pushed her panties aside and penetrated her. “Stop it, bitch,” she heard him say as she tried to push him away. When it was over, she broke free and hid in the kitchen pantry before telephoning a friend. He grabbed her again and she screamed, “Michael, you raped me.” He corrected her. “Why are you calling me Michael? My name is William.”

After six weeks as the country’s most notorious rape suspect, William Kennedy Smith is now a defendant. The 30-year-old nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy surrendered at the weekend to police in Palm Beach, where he was fingerprinted, booked and taken to the county jail to post $10,000 bail. He is charged with second-degree sexual battery (Florida’s legal term for rape) and misdemeanor battery in an Easter weekend attack at the family’s oceanfront estate. Conviction on the rape charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years; penalties for first offenders range from probation to four years. The Georgetown University medical student angrily denounced a sworn police account of the alleged rape. “The version of the events in that report is an outrageous lie,” he said. “They represent an attack on me and on my family and on the truth.”

The criminal investigation in Palm Beach is far from over. And the Massachusetts senator himself may have some explaining to do. An affidavit outlining the case against Smith also raises questions about Kennedy’s actions in the hours after the alleged attack. Early on the afternoon of March 31, investigators who visited the estate say they were told by a security man, ex-FBI agent William Barry, that he thought Kennedy was out and that Smith had left town. But when they telephoned an hour later, they said a housekeeper informed them that Barry and Kennedy had accompanied Smith to the airport for a 3 p.m. flight. Kennedy failed to return phone messages from the police when he got back, according to the affidavit. He left town the next day. For now, Kennedy remains a witness, not a suspect. But police say the case remains open. “You can draw your own conclusions,” says Palm Beach Police Sgt. William Atkinson. “There was certainly the possibility detectives were misled.” Kennedy told reporters in Cambridge, Mass., on Friday that he was never asked to contact the police. He also said he was told that Smith was being investigated for a possible “sexual harassment” complaint, not a rape charge.

The press got singed in last week’s legal maneuvering as well. State attorney David Bludworth filed misdemeanor charges against The Globe, the Boca Raton-based supermarket tabloid that violated a state confidentiality law by publishing the accuser’s name and photo last month. Influential mainstream news organizations that also carried her name-including NBC News and The New York Times-apparently got off the hook. (Bludworth says the state is researching whether the law is applicable to media based outside Florida.) Oddly, when Bludworth distributed copies of the affidavit describing the alleged. victim’s statement to the police, he included a cover sheet with her name. The whole matter could well be thrown out of court. Legal experts say the law is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge on First Amendment grounds.

Fetal position:

The bulk of the nine-page affidavit made public last week is a harrowing narrative of an evening that began at the trendy Au Bar, where the alleged victim danced and drank with Smith, Senator Kennedy and Kennedy’s son Patrick. After driving Smith back to the Kennedy estate on North Ocean Boulevard, she kissed him good night. He asked if she would like to tour the house and take a walk on the beach. Her statement doesn’t directly implicate Kennedy and his son, but places them within earshot at the time of the alleged attack. She told police she wondered why no one responded to her screams (Kennedy says he heard nothing that night). Police said she also depicted Smith as eerily composed after the alleged rape, sitting cross-legged in a chair and telling her that “no one would believe her.” She went outside to start her car, but said she was shaking so badly she was unable to shift the gears. A friend came to take her home. When police interviewed her the next day, they found her in shock, legs drawn up into a fetal position on her couch and prone to “panic at any quick movement in the room.”

As the scandal moved closer to the courtroom, Kennedy operatives tried to blunt anonymous but widespread stories that Smith had a history of abusive behavior toward women. One woman who knew Smith at Duke University in the early 1980s told NEWSWEEK that he was “a presser,” who would corner women aggressively at parties, especially if he had been drinking. Last week one of Smith’s attorneys supplied a Washington Post reporter with names of women who offered on-the-record testimonials to his gentlemanly behavior. “He would never hurt anybody,” said Minna Towbin. In the end, none of these encomiums will matter. The question of Smith’s guilt or innocence is on its way to a jury.