October 24, 2013 in Nation/World

Kennedy cousin Skakel wins new trial in 1975 death

John Christoffersen And Dave Collins Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

In this April 30 photo, Michael Skakel leaves the courtroom after a hearing in Vernon, Conn.
(Full-size photo)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was granted a new trial on Wednesday by a Connecticut judge who ruled his attorney failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002 of killing his neighbor in 1975.

The ruling by Judge Thomas Bishop marked a dramatic reversal after years of unsuccessful appeals by Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy. Skakel is serving 20 years to life.

Bridgeport State’s Attorney John Smriga said prosecutors will appeal the decision.

Skakel’s current attorney, Hubert Santos, said he expects to file a motion for bail today. If a judge approves it, Skakel could then post bond and be released from prison.

Skakel argued his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, was negligent in defending him when he was convicted in the golf club bludgeoning of Martha Moxley when they were 15 in wealthy Greenwich.

Prosecutors contended Sherman’s efforts far exceeded standards and that the verdict was based on compelling evidence against Skakel.

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,” Bishop wrote. “As a consequence of trial counsel’s failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability.”

Among other issues, the judge wrote that the defense could have focused more on Skakel’s brother, Thomas, who was an early suspect in the case because he was the last person seen with Moxley. Had Sherman done so, “there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different,” the judge wrote.

During a state trial in April on the appeal, Skakel took the stand and blasted Sherman’s handling of the case, portraying him as an overly confident lawyer having fun and basking in the limelight while making fundamental mistakes from poor jury picks to failing to track down key witnesses.

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