RFK Jr. blasted for continuing to accuse Black and brown men of murder

The presidential candidate, who is pitching a criminal justice platform to Black voters, has led a years-long effort to clear his cousin's name in a 1975 murder case.

Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference on Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

As presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. runs on a platform championing criminal justice reform in his efforts to court Black voters, critics point out that for years, the independent candidate accused two Black and brown men of committing a murder his white cousin was convicted of despite the claims being dismissed in court. 

“He’s much like many of the other racist white people who have decided that it is more convenient to choose vulnerable people to be the scapegoat for their crimes,” said activist Tamika Mallory, the founder of the social justice nonprofit Until Freedom. “Black and brown men are the easiest targets because the system, in most cases, will automatically deem those individuals guilty until proven innocent.”

In 2016, Kennedy published a book titled “Framed” in which he makes the case for why he believes his cousin Michael Skakel was innocent after being convicted of the Oct. 30, 1975, murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut. Moxley was bludgeoned to death with a golf club that was traced back to the home of Skakel, a neighbor and also a teen at the time. Skakel was convicted of the murder in 2002 and released from prison in 2013 after a Connecticut judge ruled that he did not receive adequate defense from his original attorney. 

In his book, Kennedy echos the accusations of Skakel’s friend Gitano “Tony” Bryant, the cousin of NBA star Kobe Bryant, who claimed two of his friends from the Bronx, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burton Tinsley, were responsible for Moxley’s murder. Hasbrouck is Black, and Tinsley is described in news reports as being of mixed race and of Asian descent.

“I am dead certain they did it,” Kennedy told the New York Times in 2016. Despite the claims made in his book, there are holes in Kennedy’s theory that Hasbrouck and Tinsley were responsible for Moxley’s murder. 

Kennedy claimed to know of “facts that had not been part of the trial and … not part of the public debate” based on conversations he had with neighbors of the Moxley family. He used his contributor roles with publications like the Atlantic Monthly to push his claims and later embarked on a media blitz throughout the 2000s trying to clear his cousin’s name.

In 2007, a judge for the Stamford Superior Court concluded that Bryant’s claims about Hasbrouck and Tinsley lacked credibility and determined that they would not have produced a different outcome in the case. Meanwhile, no evidence or other eyewitnesses placed Hasbrouck and Tinsley in the neighborhood on the night of Moxley’s murder. 

In a court document obtained by theGrio of Kennedy’s testimony in a retrial proceeding based on Bryant’s claims about Hasbrouck and Tinsley, Kennedy admitted that he was unable to identify an eyewitness who could corroborate Bryant’s claim or saw the two men of color in the exclusively white neighborhood of Belle Haven on the night of the murder. During his testimony, Kennedy recalled one neighbor telling him, “No black person could have ever visited their house because … he would have stuck out like a sore thumb, and everybody in Belle Haven would have known about it.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (center), who is running for president, hosted a “fireside chat” in February with rapper and producer Eric B. (right) at the Gentleman’s Factory in New York City. (Photo by John Nacion/Getty Images)

Lawrence Schoenbach, an attorney who represented Hasbrouck at the time of the public accusations Kennedy and Bryant made, told theGrio that Kennedy’s “ridiculous belief” that his former client was involved in Moxley’s murder is a “farce.”

“Nobody saw anybody Black in this all-white neighborhood,” said Schoenbach, who noted that the private, gated community had “extra security” on the night of the murder because it was the night before Halloween. 

“To think that Al Hasbrouck would get on a train on a weeknight to travel up to Connecticut to participate in the night before Halloween antics – it’s just absurd,” he told theGrio. 

According to the 2007 court document of his testimony, Kennedy said Hasbrouck and Tinsley would “probably live short lives” and end up in prison. 

Schoenbach said Hasbrouck was “anything but the typical South Bronx kid that Kennedy assumed he was,” highlighting that he obtained his bachelor’s degree, joined the Army, was honorably discharged, and worked for ABC for 30 years. He also pointed out that Bryant, the man whose claims Kennedy relied on to accuse Hasbrouck and Tinsley of Moxley’s murder, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to federal prison. 

While promoting his book “Framed,” Kennedy, who obtained his law degree from the University of Virginia Law School, dismissed concerns about Hasbrouck or Tinsley suing him for defamation. He dared them to, telling a radio station, “I hope they file a lawsuit … if they are innocent, they will file a lawsuit against me.”

Schoenbach said Kennedy was “desperate” to have Hasbrouck, who is known as Al, “say something so that Al will be forced to testify.” He advised Hasbrouck to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid being subpoenaed. 

“I thought he could win a defamation suit,” he told theGrio. “He could probably collect a great deal of money probably 10 or 15 years later from all of the appeals that would be taken, but that it was never going to be worth his while.”

The attorney continued, “He was always going to go from private citizen and unknown – which he is very happy to be – to public person and forever stared at in the supermarket.”

Despite Skakel’s being out of prison on appeal, Kennedy has continued to claim the accusations in his book are accurate. During an interview on Megyn Kelly’s Sirius XM radio show “The Megyn Kelly Show,” Kennedy said, “I was able to track down the people actually responsible for the murder, which was not my cousin.”

He also falsely claimed that Skakel was “released from prison because of that investigation,” when, in fact, he was released based on a separate appeal claiming his initial trial defense attorney was “incompetent.” 

Mallory of Until Freedom said Kennedy’s continued accusations should “disqualify” him from having the support of the Black community.

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“This is not a difference in ideology. This is falsely accusing a Black man and a mixed-race gentleman of a very serious crime that they did not commit,” she said. “I don’t know what is worse than someone who is running for president who tries to appeal to the frustration of our community, and he’s actually directly harmed Black people in this instance. It’s very dangerous.”

Schoenbach similarly told theGrio, “How dare this guy hold himself out to be the savior of criminal justice for Black people, I assume particularly Black men. Are you kidding?”

When asked about Kennedy’s false claims about Hasbrouck and Tinsley, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., a Biden-Harris campaign surrogate, told theGrio, “It just goes back to why RFK Jr. is in this race in the first place, and that is to help get this convicted felon Donald Trump elected president again.”

“When we’re talking about criminal justice, when we’re talking about Black Americans, when we’re talking about Trump and Black men, we have to continue to remind people who Trump always has been,” she maintained. 

Williams said Trump similarly falsely accused five Black and brown teen boys, known as the Central Park Five, of a violent crime against a white woman. 

She added, “They were innocent Black men, and they’re now the Exonerated Five. But yet he said they should be executed, and people act as if they’ve forgotten.”

TheGrio contacted Kennedy’s presidential campaign to comment on his claims about Hasbrouck and Tinsley. By the time this article was published, a campaign representative had not yet responded.

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