The Kennedy name is the closest America has to royalty, evoking images of wealth, power, monumental tragedy— and sensational scandal. There were the tales of former president John F. Kennedy’s dalliances with Mafia moll Judith Exner and movie star Marilyn Monroe. And there was the politically charged incident in July, 1969, when his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, drove a car off a tiny wooden bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., drowning his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Last week, scandal struck the star-crossed clan again. In Palm Beach, Fla., a glossy ocean playground for the rich and famous, a 29-year-old woman reported to police that she had been raped at the Kennedys’ beachfront La Guerida compound. At week’s end, police announced that the woman had identified her alleged assailant as the senator’s nephew, 30-yearold medical student William Kennedy Smith.
Reports of the incident first became public on April 1. According to Palm Beach police, the woman said that at the popular Au Bar nightclub on Good Friday evening, she had met Smith, Senator Kennedy, 59, and Kennedy’s son Patrick, a 23-year-old Rhode Island state senator. Shortly before the club closed at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, the woman said, she was invited to the Kennedy beachfront mansion for drinks. She claimed that she was raped there at about 4 a.m. Police said that the woman was treated for minor injuries in a local hospital and
released—although her friends told reporters that she had suffered broken ribs.
Police identified Smith as a suspect in the case just hours after circuit court Judge Richard Oftedal ruled that they had a right to withhold information about the investigation. Cristina Simon, a lawyer representing local media organizations, had asked Oftedal to order police to release details of the alleged assault, arguing that they were withholding information “to protect a wealthy and influential family.”
Both Smith and the two Kennedys had earlier released statements denying any involvement in the incident. And police said that they had not determined whether rape had actually occurred, nor had they laid any charges against Smith, a fourth-year student at Georgetown University in ¿ Washington and the son of §• Senator Kennedy’s sister, I Jean Kennedy Smith. West °° Palm Beach lawyer Mark Mirkin, who was Smith’s roommate at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in 1979, defended his friend. “Willie is probably the last guy in the world who you would expect to find being accused of a rape,” he told Maclean’s. “He’s quiet, real reserved, low-key—I’ve got to believe the allegations are unfounded, based on Willie’s character.” Under the glare of international media attention, however, Smith’s character, and the Kennedy name, will continue to be the focus of heated speculation.
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