Within five days of the accident, his lawyers arranged for him to be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury. He pleaded guilty, thus avoiding any possibility of a cross-examination, received a two-month suspended sentence, was placed on probation for one year, and had his driver's license temporarily revoked. An inquest was held the following winter, as well as a grand jury investigation in the spring, but no further charges were brought against him.
Why didn't Kennedy simply tell the truth in his statement to the police? In doing that, he would have had to admit that he and a young woman, not his wife, were going to the beach for a midnight swim (that they were both under the influence of alcohol could not have been proven), that he did not have his automobile under control, and that because he, along with everybody else at the party, did not know that Kopechne was in the car no attempt was made to save her, and that since he did not know this, he planned to foist responsibility for the accident on to someone else.
Could the truth have been worse than being stuck with the image of being a cold-hearted monster as well as a liar that many people have retained of him to this day? Like many politicians before and since, he did not want to 'fess up to anything that made him look other than honorable and upright. But like many before and since, he came off looking worse than if he had come clean.
Notes: NYT – New York Times, BG – Boston Globe, LAT – Los Angeles Times, USN & WR – U.S. News & World Report, and DHG – Daily Hampshire Gazette