Kennedy cousin Skakel poised for prison release

Updated: 2013-11-22 00:59


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Kennedy cousin Skakel poised for prison release

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is escorted from Norwalk Superior Court after being sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 murder of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley in Norwalk, Connecticut in this file photo taken August 29, 2002. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was expected to get his first taste of freedom in more than 11 years while prosecutors appealed a ruling granting him a new trial in the 1975 slaying of neighbor Martha Moxley.

A bond hearing was underway Thursday in Stamford Superior Court for Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy. Skakel has been serving 20 years to life. The hearing, where Skakel's brothers were in attendance along with Moxley's mother and brother, was expected to focus on the terms and conditions of his release from prison.

Robert Kennedy Jr., who campaigned to overturn Skakel's conviction, said this week that he felt "pure joy" at the prospect that his cousin was being released. Skakel has seen his son only a handful of times since he was sent to prison, he said.

"Everybody in my family knows that Michael is innocent," Kennedy said Tuesday. "He was in jail for over a decade for a crime he didn't commit. The only crime that he committed was having a bad lawyer."

Judge Thomas Bishop ruled last month in Vernon Superior Court that Skakel's trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent Skakel in 2002 when he was convicted in Moxley's bludgeoning with a golf club in wealthy Greenwich when they were 15.

Bishop said Sherman failed to locate a witness who backed up Skakel's alibi that he was at his cousin's house the night of the murder and failed to find a man who challenged the claim by a star witness that Skakel confessed.

The ruling caught Moxley's family by surprise after a decade of unsuccessful appeals by Skakel's attorneys. Moxley's 81-year-old mother, Dorthy, is resigned to Skakel's release.

"If he gets out on bail, he gets out on bail," Dorthy Moxley said this week, noting Skakel has a good prison record. "I just think he ought to serve his punishment. There's no doubt in my mind that he did it. A little justice for Martha is not asking a lot."

John Moxley, the victim's brother, said that he and his mother will attend the hearing and that he expects Skakel to be released.

Skakel's attorney, Hubert Santos, has argued Skakel should be released immediately, saying that the ruling makes him an innocent defendant awaiting trial and that he was not a flight risk. Santos also argued prosecutors were highly unlikely to win their appeal, a contention prosecutors dispute.

Prosecutors and Sherman defended his handling of the case.

Skakel's older brother Thomas was an early suspect because he was the last person seen with the victim, and in Bishop's ruling, he said Michael Skakel's defense should have focused more on Thomas.

The case was considered a big challenge for prosecutors because of issues including the age of the crime and the lack of forensic evidence. Michael Skakel was convicted after a trial that focused on testimony that he confessed or made incriminating statements over the years.