Chappaquiddick 50 Years Later: Some Say ‘Justice Wasn’t Served’

BOSTON (AP) — The crash ended a younger girl’s life, and with it, a person’s White Home goals.

U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Oldsmobile sedan veered off a slender bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, an extension of the resort island of Martha’s Winery off the Massachusetts coast, and plunged right into a moonlit pond 50 years in the past Thursday. His passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

Kennedy, 37, survived, however his presidential ambitions didn’t. The Massachusetts Democrat waited 10 hours to report the accident to police, and the “whys?” dogged him for the remainder of his days.

Half a century later, what did and didn’t occur on Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969, continues to fascinate and frustrate.

“Each time there’s an anniversary, it’s prefer it occurred yesterday,” Leslie Leland, who served as foreman of the grand jury that investigated, informed The Related Press in a phone interview from his dwelling on the Winery.

Now 79, Leland was a younger pharmacist on the island when he was swept up within the aftermath. He remembers getting demise threats and 24-hour police safety, and says he’s nonetheless annoyed by the choose’s refusal to subpoena anybody who was on the social gathering or share key investigative paperwork — stymieing the grand jury’s efforts to find out whether or not Kennedy had been ingesting.

“If we’d been allowed to do our job, there would have been an indictment and a request to have a jury trial,” he stated. “Justice wasn’t served. There have been so many discrepancies, however we weren’t allowed to do our jobs to get to the reality — regardless of the reality might have been.”

“I used to be younger, and I believed within the system,” he continued. “I believed everybody performed by the identical guidelines. I realized they don’t.”

Kennedy was driving after a celebration when his automobile flipped into the chilly waters, trapping Kopechne inside. She had been a marketing campaign employee for Kennedy’s brother, Robert, who was assassinated the earlier 12 months in Los Angeles throughout California’s Democratic presidential major.

Kennedy, who managed to free himself from the submerged car, stated he tried in useless to rescue Kopechne. He later described his failure to report the accident to police for 10 hours as “indefensible,” attributing the delay to exhaustion, shock and a concussion.

Sen. Edward Kennedy and his spouse Joan Kennedy (left, in white coat and darkish glasses) return from the funeral of Mary Jo Kopechne, July 22, 1969. (Picture by Hulton Archive/Getty Photographs)

The nation, too, was shocked. Nevertheless it was additionally distracted by the historic Apollo 11 moon touchdown, which eclipsed information protection. Kennedy, who insisted he hadn’t been ingesting, pleaded responsible to leaving the scene of an accident and acquired a suspended sentence of two months in jail. He was by no means indicted.

For Kopechne’s household, bitterness has given solution to a want to honor her reminiscence by telling her story and awarding scholarships in her title to shiny younger college students, stated William Nelson, a cousin born three years after she died. Kopechne’s father died in 2003; her mom died in 2007.

“We’ve shifted into attempting to have Mary Jo’s life imply one thing,” stated Nelson, of Slatington, Pennsylvania. “She was form of glossed over because the woman within the automobile. It was all about Ted Kennedy. She would have gone on to do nice issues.”

Kopechne’s dedication to civil rights drew her to Robert Kennedy’s marketing campaign. Family consider she would have pursued extra activism and maybe a political profession of her personal.

“Mary Jo was forward of her time for girls in 1969, so I’m fairly certain she would have pioneered a brand new path for girls in Washington,” Nelson stated. “The true tragedy of that night time in Chappaquiddick is she by no means obtained that likelihood.”

And what of Kennedy’s personal legacy?

Had been it not for Chappaquiddick, Kennedy might nicely have been the Democrat who denied Richard Nixon a second time period in 1972. However he didn’t dare run then, and a later presidential marketing campaign in 1980 fizzled.

“The phenomenon of the private turning into political started with Chappaquiddick,” stated Patrick Maney, a Kennedy knowledgeable and professor of political science at Boston Faculty. “There was one thing totally different in American politics after Chappaquiddick than there was earlier than.”

Even so, Kennedy went on to serve one other 4 a long time within the Senate, the place he was one of many nation’s longest serving and most influential legislators of the 20th century, securing his place within the pantheon of American politics.

In “True Compass,” a memoir revealed shortly after his 2009 demise, Kennedy referred to as Chappaquiddick “a horrible tragedy that haunts me day by day of my life.”

Not surprisingly, nothing is deliberate to mark Thursday’s anniversary on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, erected in his reminiscence within the shadow of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.

On its web site, Chappaquiddick — which impressed a 2018 movie of the identical title — seems solely in a number of obscure interviews performed as a part of an oral historical past mission.
The AP Company Archives contributed to this report. Comply with Invoice Kole on Twitter at

(© Copyright 2019 The Related Press. All Rights Reserved. This materials will not be revealed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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