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1969: Kennedy pleads guilty over car crash

VIDEO : Edward Kennedy says he tried to save Mary Jo

Senator Edward Kennedy has pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crime and has been sentenced to a two-month suspended jail sentence.

The verdict follows a tragic car accident on the island of Chappaquiddick, east of Martha's Vineyard, a week ago in which 29-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne was drowned.

Ms Kopechne was a former secretary to Senator Kennedy's late brother Robert.

Senator Kennedy was driving back to Edgartown, the main town on Martha's Vineyard, from a party on Chappaquiddick when his car careered off a narrow bridge and into a creek.

He managed to escape from the vehicle but Mary Jo was killed.

He did not report the incident to Martha's Vineyard police until the next morning, some eight hours after the accident.

Police found her body in the back seat of the overturned car.

TV confession

This evening, the Massachussetts Democrat senator made a speech on national television defending his actions on the night of 19 July.

He denied any improper relationship with Mary Jo and said he was not driving under the influence of alcohol.

He said he was in a state of shock when he emerged from the creek and confused by "a jumble of emotions". He added that he made several attempts to find Mary Jo by diving down into the water.

He gave up and said he remembers little of how he got back to his hotel in Edgartown except that he swam the narrow channel because there were no night ferries and nearly drowned in the process.

He acknowledged that he must now decide whether or not to resign as senator.

Mary Jo's bereaved mother said she hoped he would not resign. "I am satisfied with his statement and hope he decides to stay in the Senate," she said from her home in New Jersey.

In Context
Ted Kennedy was the brother of President John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, both assassinated in 1963 and 1968 respectively.

He became Massachusetts senator in 1962.

After his brothers' deaths he was widely tipped as the next US President.

But the Chappaquiddick incident severely damaged his political reputation. Nevertheless it recovered enough to allow him to continue as senator and advocate reform of public health, education, immigration, housing, capital punishment and abortion laws.

He withdrew in 1974 from the presidential race for 1976 and failed in a 1980 primary challenge to Jimmy Carter.


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