Michael Skakel

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Michael Christopher Skakel (born September 19, 1960) was convicted in 2002 of the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley, his 15-year-old neighbor in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. In 2013, he was granted a new trial by a Connecticut Judge and released on $1.2 million bail; the decision is now being appealed by the prosecution. The case attracted worldwide publicity owing to a "Kennedy connection"[1] as Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Kennedy (née Skakel), the widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Early life[edit]

Michael Skakel was one of seven children born to Rushton Walter Skakel (1923-2003) and Anne Reynolds (1932-1973). The family lived in the neighborhood of Belle Haven in Greenwich, Connecticut. After his mother's death from brain cancer in 1973, Skakel began abusing alcohol[2] and had difficulties at school. His cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. later wrote that Skakel was a "small sensitive child — the runt of the litter with a harsh and occasionally violent alcoholic father who both ignored and abused him."[3] He also struggled for years with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until he was 26.[3]

In 1978, Skakel was arrested for drunk driving in New York.[4] To avoid criminal charges, Skakel's family sent him to the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, where he received treatment for alcoholism. He left the school after two years and spent much of the 1980s competing on the national speed skiing circuit.[5] In 1993, he graduated from Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, and worked as a driver for Ted Kennedy's 1994 reelection campaign. Later that year he took a job working for his cousin Michael Kennedy at the Citizens Energy Corporation as director of international programs.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

In the early 1990s, Skakel married golfer Margo Sheridan. They have since divorced.[citation needed]

Moxley murder[edit]

The grave of Martha Moxley
Martha Moxley
The footstone of Martha Moxley

On the evening of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley left with friends to attend a Halloween party at the Skakel home, one block away. According to friends, Moxley began flirting with and eventually kissed Thomas Skakel, Michael's brother. Moxley was last seen "falling together behind the fence" with Thomas Skakel near the pool in the Skakel backyard at around 9:30 p.m.[citation needed]

The next day, Moxley's body was found underneath a tree in her family's backyard. Her trousers and underwear were pulled down, but she had not been sexually assaulted. Pieces of a broken six-iron golf club were found near the body. An autopsy indicated she had been both bludgeoned and stabbed with the club, which was traced back to the Skakel home.[6]

Initial investigation[edit]

Thomas Skakel was the last person known to have been seen with Moxley the night of the murder and had a weak alibi. He became the prime suspect, but his father forbade access to his school and mental health records. Kenneth Littleton, who had started working as a live-in tutor for the Skakel family only hours before the murder, also became a prime suspect. However, no one was charged, and the case languished for decades. In the meantime, several books were published about the murder, including Timothy Dumas's A Wealth of Evil; the novel A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne, a fictional account of the case; and Murder in Greenwich, by Mark Fuhrman.[7] [8]

Over the years, both Thomas and Michael Skakel significantly changed their alibis for the night of Moxley's murder. Michael Skakel claimed that he had been window-peeping and masturbating in a tree beside the Moxley property from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Two former Elan students testified they heard Michael Skakel confess to killing Moxley with a golf club. Gregory Coleman testified that Skakel was given special privileges, saying Skakel bragged, "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."[9][10]

Investigation re-opened[edit]

When William Kennedy Smith was tried (and acquitted) for rape in 1991, a rumor surfaced that he had been present at the Skakel house on the night of the Moxley murder, with the clear insinuation that he might have been involved. Although this proved to be unfounded, it resulted in a new investigation of the then cold case.[11] The Sutton Associates, a private detective agency hired by Rushton Skakel in 1991, conducted its own investigation of the killing. The Sutton Report, later leaked to the media, revealed that both Thomas and Michael Skakel altered their stories about their activities the night Martha was killed.[12] In 1993 author Dominick Dunne, father of murdered actress Dominique Dunne, published A Season in Purgatory, a fictional story closely resembling the Moxley case. Mark Fuhrman's 1998 book Murder in Greenwich named Michael Skakel as the murderer and pointed out numerous mistakes the police had made in investigating the case. Even in the years before the Dunne and Fuhrman books, Greenwich Police detectives Steve Carroll and Frank Garr, as well as police reporter Leonard Levitt, had become convinced that Michael Skakel was the killer.[citation needed]

Trial[edit]

In June 1998, a rarely invoked one-man grand jury was convened. In June 2000, Michael Skakel, now a 40-year-old divorced father of one, was indicted for Moxley's murder. His alibi was that at the time of the murder, he was at his cousin's house. During the trial, the jury heard part of a taped book proposal, which included Michael Skakel speaking about masturbating in a tree on the night of the murder—possibly the same tree under which Moxley's body was found the next morning.[13] In the book proposal, Skakel did not admit he committed the murder. Prosecutors took words from the book proposal and overlaid them on graphic images of Moxley's dead body in a computerized, multimedia presentation shown to jurors during closing arguments. In the audiotape, Skakel said that he was afraid he might have been seen the previous night "jerking off", and he panicked. Though the jury heard the whole tape, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor did not play the portion of the audiotape where Skakel said "jerking off", giving the impression that he was confessing to the murder.[14]

Skakel was convicted for Moxley's murder on June 7, 2002, and was given a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.[15]

The prosecutors' use of the multimedia presentation during closing arguments was included in Skakel's initial appeal. In their brief responding to that appeal, the prosecution argued:

The state engaged in appropriate and effective advocacy by using trial exhibits to highlight certain evidence and inferences. ... Just as the state should not be deprived of its most valuable evidence unless there is a compelling reason to do so, the state should not be prohibited from making its best arguments. The state's use of audio and photographic exhibits during argument was a matter of effective advocacy. The state did not, as defendant claims, distort the evidence in any respect. By placing certain exhibits next to defendant's words, or by displaying two related exhibits simultaneously, the state was making explicit the inferences it was asking the jury to draw. This is the job of an advocate.[16]

Post-trial[edit]

In January 2003, attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Skakel's cousin, wrote a controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled "A Miscarriage of Justice," insisting that Skakel's indictment "was triggered by an inflamed media, and that an innocent man is now in prison". Kennedy's article presents the argument that there is more evidence suggesting that Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel family's live-in tutor, killed Moxley. He also calls Dominick Dunne the "driving force" behind Skakel's prosecution.[17]

Appeals[edit]

Skakel continued to fight his conviction. In November 2003, Skakel appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred because the case should have been heard in Juvenile Court rather than Superior Court, that the statute of limitations had expired on the charges against him, and that there was prosecutorial misconduct. On January 12, 2006, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected Skakel's claims and affirmed his conviction. Subsequently, Skakel retained attorney and former United States Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who on July 12, 2006, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of Skakel before the Supreme Court of the United States. On November 13, 2006, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[18]

Since then, Skakel has begun his first round of postconviction proceedings, beginning with a petition for writ of habeas corpus and motion for new trial in the Connecticut trial court which originally heard his case. Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has brought forth Gitano "Tony" Bryant, cousin of Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant and a former classmate of Skakel at the private Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut. In a videotaped interview with Skakel private investigator Vito Colucci in August 2003, Bryant said one of his companions on the night of Moxley's murder had wanted to rape her. Bryant said he did not come forward before because his mother had warned him, and he believed her, that as a black man he would be tagged for the unsolved murder. A two-week hearing in April 2007 allowed the presentation of this hearsay evidence, among other matters.[19] In September 2007, Skakel's attorneys filed a petition, based in part on Bryant's claims, asking for a new trial; prosecutors formally responded that Bryant may have made up the story to sell a play about the case.[20]

The new Skakel defense team also hired a full-time investigative team to review existing and new information—particularly a book written about Élan School—in preparation for the hearing. They argued that no Élan School residents with Skakel, other than Gregory Coleman, ever spoke about Skakel's confession to anyone, including the author of the book.[citation needed]

On October 25, 2007, a Superior Court judge denied the request for a new trial, saying Bryant's testimony was not credible and there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the original trial.[21] Skakel's lawyer appealed this decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court. On March 26, 2009, a five-judge panel of the state Supreme Court heard arguments on this appeal.[22] On April 12, 2010, the panel ruled 4-1 against Skakel's appeal.[23]

Skakel then appealed based on a charge of incompetence against Mickey Sherman, his lead attorney at the trial. In an April 2013 hearing in Vernon, Connecticut, Skakel testified that Sherman, rather than focusing on Skakel's defense, instead basked in celebrity. Skakel also claimed that Sherman was more interested in collecting fees to settle Sherman's own financial problems than in defending Skakel.[24] Sherman testified in defense of his actions, while continuing to maintain his belief in Skakel's innocence in the Moxley case.[25]

Parole hearings[edit]

Skakel is imprisoned at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut.[26][27] On January 24, 2012, Skakel and his attorneys argued for a sentence reduction, claiming that he should have been tried in juvenile court.[28] On March 5, 2012, Skakel lost his bid for a sentence reduction.[29]

Skakel's first parole hearing was held on October 24, 2012.[30] Skakel was denied parole. He continued to deny the killing. The sentence is 20 years to life and the ten-year mark is only half of the minimum sentence. Moxley's mother said he should serve at least 20 years. Skakel's next parole hearing is scheduled for October 2017.

New trial[edit]

On October 23, 2013, Skakel was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge, Judge Thomas A. Bishop, who ruled that his attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002. Prosecutors have said they will appeal the decision. John Moxley, the victim's brother, said the ruling took him and his family by surprise and they hope the state wins an appeal.[31]

In his ruling, the judge wrote that defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense.

"Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense," Judge Thomas Bishop wrote. "As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."

On November 21, 2013, Skakel was released on bond for $1.2 million along with other conditions: He must be monitored with a GPS device, he cannot have contact with Moxley's family, must periodically check in over phone if need be, and is not allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "The Martha Moxley Murder — Whirlpool of Doubts — Crime Library on truTV.com". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  2. ^ "Courttv.Com - Trials". Web.archive.org. 2007-12-27. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  3. ^ a b Foderaro, Lisa W. "2 Kennedys Sent Pleas For Skakel" New York Times. August 30, 2002.
  4. ^ "Moxley Case: Who is Michael Skakel?". CNN.com. 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  5. ^ Rogers, Patrick."The Boy Next Door" People Vol. 53 No. 5. February 7, 2000
  6. ^ Crittle, Simon. "The Skakel Trial: Gruesome Details from Day Two". Time Magazine. 
  7. ^ Dumas, Timothy (1999). A wealth of evil: the true story of the murder of Martha Moxley in America's richest community.. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 9780446607322. 
  8. ^ Dunne, Dominick (October 2000). "Trail Of Guilt". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  9. ^ "Probable Cause hearing transcript". Marthamoxley.com. p. 83. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  10. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "The Martha Moxley Murder — The Trial: Superior Court Weighs Trial Agenda — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "Skakel Family Friend Softens Her Story". Courant.com. 2002-05-16. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  13. ^ Fuhrmann, Mark (1998). Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?. ; cf. Kennedy, Robert F., Jr. (January–February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic. 
  14. ^ "The Ghosts of Greenwich", 48 Hours, August 30, 2008, 34 minutes into story.
  15. ^ Christoffersen, John. "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel slams lawyer during murder conviction appeal - U.S. News". Usnews.nbcnews.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  16. ^ "CSAO: State of Connecticut v. Michael Skakel". Ct.gov. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  17. ^ Kennedy, Robert F. Jr (January/February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic Monthly. 
  18. ^ "Skakel Murder Conviction Left Intact by U.S. Supreme Court," Bloomberg, November 13, 2006
  19. ^ "Skakel Heads Back To Court," Hartford Courant, April 17, 2007
  20. ^ Christoffersen, John (September 14, 2007). "Attorneys spar over Skakel's trial bid". USA Today. 
  21. ^ Christoffersen, John (October 25, 2007). "Attorney: Judge denies Skakel's bid for a new trial". Associated Press. 
  22. ^ Christoffersen, John (March 26, 2009). "Skakel Case Goes Before State Supreme Court". WTIC. Associated Press. 
  23. ^ "Skakel Loses Appeal for a New Trial". The New York Times. April 12, 2010. 
  24. ^ Christoffersen, John (April 25, 2013). "Skakel slams trial attorney in Conn. murder appeal". Stamford Advocate. Associated Press. Retrieved April 28, 2013. 
  25. ^ Vigdor, Neil (April 26, 2013). "Sherman stands by Skakel to the end". Stamford Advocate. Retrieved April 28, 2013. 
  26. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information: Michael Skakel". State of Connecticut. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Skakel gets 20 years to life". CNN. August 30, 2002.
  28. ^ "Skakel seeks sentence reduction for Conn. murder". Associated Press. January 24, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Skakel loses sentence reduction bid". Fox News. Retrieved March 5, 2012. 
  30. ^ Christoffersen, John. "Kennedy Cousin Skakel Up For Parole in Conn.". Associated Press. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel granted retrial for 1975 murder of Martha Moxley". NY Daily News. 1975-10-30. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 

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