So now that we understand the events surrounding the murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley, let’s dive into the charges, trial and recent overturned conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel.
Martha Moxley, photo courtesy of the Boston Herald
If you read part I, you’ll recall Michael changed his story from the original alibi he had given investigators back in 1975 that convinced them he couldn’t possibly be involved due to timing (he said he had gone to his cousin’s house with his brothers and had not returned until 11 p.m., but let’s be real — it seems the police were willing to use any excuse they could find not to look into the Skakel family). In his memoir years later, Michael revealed he had actually been on the Moxley property and even placed himself at the scene of the crime by admitting to masturbating in a pine tree (yes, you read that correctly) that matched the description of the tree Martha’s body was found under.
The Moxley’s Belle Haven home, 1970s, photo courtesy of the Daily Beast
And so, Michael essentially brought on his own demise by not being able to keep his mouth shut. He was charged with Martha’s murder on January 19, 2000, decades after her body was found. Later that day, Skakel, 39 at the time of the charge, turned himself into police and was released on $500,000 bond. Skakel returned to his home in Hobe Sound, Florida (which he shared with his now ex-wife who, ironically enough, was a professional golfer). Michael’s cousin, Douglas Kennedy, responded to the charges by saying, “Michael is one of the most honest people I know. He cares about people more than anybody I’ve ever met, and there is no possible way he’s involved in this.”
As I mentioned at the end of part I, Michael was originally charged as a juvenile because he was 15-years-old at the time the murder was committed. However, on January 31, 2001, Judge Maureen Dennis ruled that Michael should be tried as an adult and the case be transferred to the Superior Court.
2001 – 2006
On April 20, 2001, Superior Judge John Kavanewsky, Jr. ruled that there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial and so, testimony began May 7, 2002. Exactly one month later, even with no forensic evidence or eye witnesses (even to this day), Skakel was convicted of murdering Martha Moxley. On August 29, 2002, Michael was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. At the sentencing, Michael tearfully maintained his innocence, saying, “I have been accused of a crime. I would love to be able to say that I did it, but I cannot do that.”
Michael and his defense team refused to let this be the end and continued to fight for his freedom, but they were continuously shut down by the State Supreme Court. In April of 2005, the team filed a petition for a new trial but the conviction was unanimously upheld by the State Supreme Court. In February 2006, Skakel’s team filed a motion asking the State Supreme Court to rehear arguments in Michael’s appeal but the request was denied.
Not willing to give up so easily, the team filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in July of 2006 stating their cilent’s due process rights were violated by the State Superior Court decision. Not surprisingly, the prosecution filed a brief requesting that the justices reject Michael’s attempts at freedom, arguing that his due process rights were not violated.
This back-and-forth between the defense team and the court went on for years and years. Michael’s defense attorneys worked tirelessly to get the Supreme Court to agree to take another look at Michael’s conviction with their answer always the same: nope.
Michael Skakel, photo courtesy of the Connecticut Post
2013 – 2016
However, things started to look up for Michael when his conviction was overturned in 2013. According to Judge Thomas Bishop, Michael’s trial attorney, Michael Sherman, had botched his case. “The defense of a serious felony prosecution requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense capably executed. Trial counsel’s failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense,” wrote Bishop in October of 2013.
On December 30, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected the ruling that Sherman did not adequately represent Michael in a 4-3 decision. Still relentlessly pursuing Michael’s freedom (because they’re getting some nice paychecks courtesy of the Skakel family), his lawyers asked the State Supreme Court to reconsider the reinstatement of Michael’s conviction on January 9, 2017 (conveniently after the justice who wrote the 4-3 majority ruling left the court.)
And finally, we arrive at the most recent addition to the timeline of this complex case. On May 4, 2018, in another 4-3 ruling, Connecticut Supreme Court vacated the murder conviction, stating Sherman failed to present evidence of an alibi. Hubert Santos, Michael’s attorney, told NBC Connecticut, “Today’s ruling makes clear that Michael Skakel spent 11-and-a-half years unjustly imprisoned in violation of the Constitution. To be absolutely clear: Michael Skakel is innocent of this crime. We are grateful to Judge Bishop and the Connecticut Supreme Court for correcting this miscarriage of justice.”
John Williams, New Haven Criminal Defense Attorney, is unsure if prosecutors will continue to pursue Michael’s case. According to Williams, “He did serve a pretty fair amount in prison before this habeas corpus petition was released. He did a lot of time and if he’s innocent, good lord… I think that a reasonable prosecutor could say, okay… it’s time to move on to other things, we have limited judicial resources. But who knows what they’re going to do. It would be an interesting trial if it happens though.”
Martha’s mother, Dorothy Moxley, photo courtesy of the New York Post
Just as Williams said, it is hard to tell how this case will end (if it ever ends), but my biggest hope is that, regardless of the outcome, justice is found for the poor teenage girl who had her life so violently stolen. Dorothy Moxley, Martha’s mother, still stands firm in her belief that Michael is responsible for her daughter’s murder. On the day the conviction was overturned, she told NBC Connecticut, “I was very surprised and I’m very disappointed. I have no doubt in my mind that Michael Skakel is the person who murdered my daughter… People have to be responsible for their actions. You can’t do things and expect you can just get away with it.”
Featured image courtesy of ABC News