HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new chapter began Friday in a murder case going back more than 40 years involving a Kennedy cousin.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, the Connecticut Supreme Court delivered a major blow to Michael Skakel three years after he was released from prison. The divided high court reinstated Skakel’s murder conviction in the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley.
The court rejected a lower court ruling saying Skakel’s trial lawyer did not accurately represent him.
The 56-year-old nephew of Ethel and Robert Kennedy came under suspicion as a teenager and has spent his entire adult life wrestling with the legal system.
Skakel was 15 years old when his neighbor Moxley, also 15, was murdered in Greenwich, Connecticut.
He was convicted in 2002 of Moxley’s murder, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. A jury agreed that Skakel beat his teenage crush to death with a golf club in a rage after she flirted with his older brother.
There was suspicion at the time of the murder, but no arrest. Prosecutors used statements Skakel made in the years after the crime to get their guilty verdict.
But Skakel was granted a new trial and released in November 2012 after a lower court judge agreed that the $1.7 million defense for Skakel’s trial lawyer, Mickie Sherman, was inadequate.
Attorney Hubert Santos, who replaced Sherman, said the defendant’s own brother, Tommy Skakel, should have been offered as an alternative killer.
“A great burden has been lifted off his shoulders,” Santos said of Michael Skakel.
Back in February of this year, the State of Connecticut argued Sherman’s defense was sufficient.
In its Friday ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed that Sherman’s defense strategy, while ultimately unsuccessful, was “not deficient” and was “constitutionally adequate.”
The court said at the time of the trial, Sherman decided not to use the defense that Skakel’s brother was the killer for tactical reasons, and thus the conviction stands.
“This was far from a slipshod defense,” Assistant State’s Attorney Susan Gill said on Feb. 24. “This was a well thought out professional defense.”
Skakel is now a convicted killer again, but still a free man for the moment.
The day Skakel walked out of court, the victim’s mother told CBS2’s Young she did not believe the once-troubled teen is any danger as a middle-aged man.
“I don’t think he’s Jeffrey Dahmer or one of the Manson killers who would do anything like that, so it’s a kid that had problems,” Moxley said. “We don’t have anything to be afraid of now.”
Had Skakel been arrested and convicted at the time of the murder, his sentence likely would have been over decades ago. The decision to try him as an adult years later, and now the conviction reversal and reinstatement, puts the case in uncharted legal territory.
On Friday night, Dorothy Moxley and her son, John, reacted with surprise and satisfaction at the reinstatement of Skakel’s conviction.
Dorothy Moxley said she could not be more pleased. “This,” she said, “is the way it should be.”
Skakel, who is out on $1.2 million bail, could be sent back to prison. But given the tortured legal path the case has traveled, legal experts said that is by no means certain.
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