• U.S.

THE FUGITIVE GOES ON TRIAL

6 minute read
Elizabeth Gleick

“Hello Mom + Dad

Well I am back in Sweden. No problem on the way home…I had a great winter this year great climbing, skiing, ice climbing, flying, etc. I would love to live like this forever…Sorry I am late but Happy Birthday Mom. I hope you had A nice day and got your new Jaguar.

love always, Your friend.”

People who knew Alex Kelly in the old days before he disappeared say he is like Rip Van Winkle. They say they are amazed at how little he has changed: how he still looks like the popular wrestler he was in his senior year at Darien High School 10 years ago, how his handsome, unlined face bears no trace of his years on the run. Of course, Kelly’s life on the lam appears to have been easier than most: an eight-year idyll of winter sports and world travel shared with a beautiful Swedish girlfriend and marred only by occasional worries about money and border crossings and by his long absence from his family.

All good things must eventually end, however. Wanted stateside on 1986 charges of kidnapping and raping two teenage girls, Kelly–his passport about to expire and the FBI closing in–turned himself in to authorities in Zurich in January 1995. He was at last ready, his lawyer said, to return and assert his innocence.

For 10 years Kelly’s alleged victims have been waiting for their stories to be heard too and now, with the first of two rape trials under way in Stamford Superior Court, one young woman is getting her chance. “We never let it go,” said prosecutor Bruce Hudock–the same man who brought the original charges against Kelly. Like the earlier trials of preppy murderer Robert Chambers and William Kennedy Smith, the Kelly case is raising the curtain on the privileged life of upper-middle-class young people–with its easy access to alcohol and spotty parental supervision. It has divided families who were once neighbors in this expensive Connecticut suburb not far from New York City. And it has once again stirred questions, about whether money can subvert justice.

At the time of the two incidents, 18-year-old Alex Kelly was a member of the In crowd at Darien High and a star wrestler–“the best Darien ever had,” according to the brother of one of Kelly’s accusers. After earlier juvenile arrests for burglary and four months in drug rehabilitation, he appeared to be on the right track, and had made the honor roll. But on Feb. 10, 1986, he showed up at a party where the teenagers had been playing the drinking game Quarters. His accuser, then 16 and a student at a Catholic school, testified that she needed a ride home and that Kelly offered her one. She claims he drove past her house, pulled the Jeep Wagoneer he was driving into a cul-de-sac and forced the girl, a virgin, to have sex, threatening to kill her if she told anyone. “He told me this could be easy or this could be hard,” the woman, who is 26 and married, tearfully recounted. The gynecologist who examined her the following day told the court last week the girl was not only deeply shaken, but her genitals were also badly bruised and cut. The girl’s sister, brother and father all testified about her extreme emotional distress that night. The girl’s father said he even called Kelly’s father in the middle of the night to report the attack, but Joseph Kelly testified that his son said, “We had sex. Go to bed. “

Kelly’s lawyer, Thomas Puccio, who successfully appealed the conviction of Claus von Bulow, has labored to convince the jury that the young woman was drunk and the sex consensual. Last week a sexologist said the girl’s hysteria could have resulted from guilt and anxiety over her first sexual experience. Several witnesses were grilled about the size of her beer glass. And unless Kelly takes the stand in his own defense, which he has not yet decided to do, the jury may never learn that a second girl, this one 17 at the time, claims that Kelly raped her four days later, under almost identical circumstances. (In a bid for change of venue, on the ground that the local jury pool was prejudiced by publicity, the Kellys paid later-to-be-disgraced White House adviser Dick Morris $25,000 for polling.)

The jury did learn, however, of the defendant’s flight. After serving 17 days in jail, Kelly was released on $200,000 bond and allowed to move to Colorado to work while awaiting trial. (He had already been summarily suspended from school and handed his diploma.) But just days before his trial was to begin, Alex’s parents and Michael Sherman, his lawyer at the time, flew to Colorado to visit him. Last week Sherman testified he told Kelly he did not think he could get a “fair shake from the criminal justice system,” blaming “horrendous pretrial publicity” and a ruling that allowed him to be tried for both rapes simultaneously (the charges have since been separated). “These were factors that led him and led me to feel that the decks were substantially being stacked against him,” Sherman explained to TIME. Shortly thereafter, Alex disappeared.

Though Joe and Melanie Kelly, who have a plumbing-contracting business, claimed to have no idea where their son was, the FBI later seized evidence from the Kellys’ home and safe-deposit box that showed that they had visited their son in Europe, that they had sent him money, and that Melanie had looked into getting Alex access to a $600,000 trust fund before he turned 21. Assistant district attorney Hudock has opted not to prosecute the Kellys for aiding their son because he fears that jurors will be sympathetic to parents desperate to help a child in trouble.

Amy Molitor’s loyalty is somewhat more mystifying. In 1986 Alex was dating schoolmate Molitor; it was her family’s Jeep he was driving the night of the alleged rape. Although he returned from his exile with a Swedish woman, Elisabet Jansson, whom he described as his fiance, Jansson is gone and Kelly and Molitor are again romantically involved. Courtroom observers can be heard whispering, “What does she see in him?” They might well wonder: just before the trial the couple was in a car wreck, in Amy’s car. Kelly, out on bond and late for his curfew, overturned on a curve while speeding. He fled the scene of the accident, leaving an injured Molitor on the road.

Kelly could receive a maximum sentence of 45 years if convicted on the first set of charges. And then, just as if his years-long absence had never occurred, there is still a second woman waiting to tell her story.

–Reported by Elaine Rivera/Stamford

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