Two members of a Dukes County grand jury who wanted to investigate U.S. Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at the Dyke Bridge on Chappaquiddick allege their efforts were thwarted by a judge and top law enforcement officials.
Leslie Leland, former owner of Leslie’s Drug Store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, told The Times during an interview at his West Tisbury home that he was foreman of a Dukes County grand jury empaneled in 1969 to hear various cases. He hoped to make the Dyke Bridge crash part of the grand jury’s schedule.
District Attorney Edmund Dinis was reluctant to allow an investigation to proceed, Leland alleged. In an end run around Dinis, Leland said, he sent a letter directly to Attorney General Robert Quinn’s office requesting authorization to conduct a grand jury investigation, but heard nothing back.
It was Leland’s interview with a Boston television station that helped put pressure on Quinn. “So they were interviewing me in the drugstore on film, and they were going to run this story [during] the 6 o’clock news. So in the interview, I said I have a return receipt request in my hand here from the attorney general’s office that they had received my letter …”
Leland said the news station returned to Boston and contacted Quinn’s office in the late afternoon, and said they had the receipt on tape. The attorney general’s office promised to get back to the news station, Leland said he learned. When the station called back, Quinn’s office admitted they had just found the letter, and would take the request under advisement, Leland said.
The television station never ran the segment with the receipt, Leland said, but after two weeks, the attorney general’s office set a grand jury date for April 1970. In the months between when the date was set and the jury convened, Leland said, he began to receive death threats over the phone and in letters.
“First phone call I got I figured it was just a prank, but then the second phone call, it changed. They knew too much information about my kids and the business, and, you know, ‘You want to see your children again, drop your investigation …”
Leland said he informed the Massachusetts State Police of the calls, and handed over the letters he’d received. He did not retain copies. From that point until the grand jury met, a trooper guarded Leland 24 hours a day.
The day the jury met, Leland said, troopers drove him to the Dukes County Superior Courthouse, where a scrum of reporters and camera operators waited out front in a scene reminiscent of the inquest frenzy.
“I walked up the steps. I’m greeted by the district attorney with a state trooper next to me. The district attorney says — it’s Edmund Dinis — he says, ‘I’ve got a message for you from the judge,’ and I looked at him and I said, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘The judge is seriously considering holding you in contempt of court.’” The contempt threat, Leland said, stemmed from too much contact with the press.
“They came to me,” he said of the reporters.
Inside the courtroom, Leland alleged Judge Wilfred Paquet, who had been brought in from Boston, instructed the grand jury that it was forbidden to request testimony from any witnesses who had appeared before the inquest.
“I found out later a grand jury had the right to subpoena anyone, including Kennedy,” Leland said. Despite the restriction from Paquet, Leland said he pressed Dinis to bring in Kennedy as a witness, but Dinis refused.
“‘You heard what the judge said,’” Leland recalled Dinis saying, “you can’t subpoena those witnesses that testified at the inquest.’”
Then Leland said he requested the inquest transcripts, which had been impounded, and therefore were not publicly available.
“So I leave the grand jury room, walk down the hallway to where the judge was, and the judge is sitting at the table. He looks up at me — looks over his glasses — and says, ‘What do you want?’” Leland alleges the judge leveled a death stare at him.
“And I said I would like to request a copy of the inquest for the grand jury, and he looks at me and he starts reading from this paper in front of him, a note. Basically he knew that was what I was coming for … and he denied my request … He says that inquest is not going to be released until the grand jury has completed its work.”
Fellow grand juror Robert Maciel, also from West Tisbury, corroborated some of what Leland recounted about the roadblocks the jury faced. While he didn’t recall much of Paquet’s involvement, he did remember Dinis supporting the prohibition of inquest witnesses and testimony. He recalled Dinis telling the jurors that unless they themselves saw something relative to the incident, outside information was closed off due to too much hearsay. Maciel noted several people not part of the inquest wanted to testify before the grand jury, including a woman he said allegedly saw a man walking up Main Street in Edgartown soaking wet at about 1:30 am to 2 am July 19 — a possible route back to where Kennedy was staying at the Shiretown Inn. Dinis, Maciel recalled, put the kibosh on her testimony.
“‘Nope, has nothing to do with this case,’” he recalled Dinis saying. “Oh my God, that was awful.” Maciel remembered being “disturbed” by Dinis’s stance. Dinis rendered the grand jury impotent, he said. “It makes you not believe in the court system after that,” he said.
Maciel praised Leland for his efforts to investigate.
“He did his best to try to get something done,” he said, but conceded the foreman was vulnerable.
“He was the only one they could really get,” Maciel said. For example, he pointed out, Leland’s drugstore appeared targeted.
Leland confirmed something unusual did occur with the drugstore he had only recently purchased as the grand jury’s inquiry in the Dyke Bridge got underway. He said he received no notification or follow-up notification from the state pharmacy registration board that the drugstore’s registration needed renewal. He got a tip one day that the next day the State Police would padlock the drugstore because the registration would expire. Leland said he flew to Boston, filled out the renewal form, paid the fee, and staved off being shuttered. He conceded the affair could have been coincidental. On the 20th anniversary of the Dyke Bridge incident, Leland appeared on a segment of “A Current Affair,” hosted by Maury Povich, where he briefly disclosed the grand jury was kept from the inquest material and further that prosecutor Walter Steele allegedly had asked him not to investigate the incident. Soon after the segment aired, Leland said he was audited by the IRS, a first for him. This too he said could easily have been coincidence. In his interview with The Times, Leland reaffirmed Steele asked him not to delve into the crash with the grand jury.
It should be stressed that Dinis, Paquet, and Steele cannot offer their own accounts of their interactions with jurors, as the three men are deceased.
Maciel, who at that time was working for Edgartown Marine on the Edgartown Harbor edge, took particular issue with inquest testimony of Kennedy’s he later read that indicated the senator swam from the Chappy Ferry slip across the harbor to get back to Edgartown proper that morning. Maciel found it improbable. He said there were “boats all over the place” on the Chappaquiddick side.
“He could have just jumped in a boat and rowed across,” he said.