Kennedy cousin Skakel to be freed after 11 years
Michael Winter and John Bacon, USA TODAY 12:14 p.m. EST November 21, 2013
A judge in Stamford, Conn., on Thursday set bail at $1.2 million for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who last month won a new trial in the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley.
Lawyers for Skakel said he would post bond immediately and need not be returned to prison. The judge ruled that Skakel, 53, must remain in Connecticut and must wear an ankle monitor.
The ruling brought applause from Skakel backers in the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, Moxley's father, John, expressed disappointment that Skakel will be freed.
"We stand behind the state," Moxley said. "We are confident that Judge (Thomas) Bishop's decision will be overturned. But if there is another trial we will be here for that, too."
Last month, Bishop ruled that Skakel's original defense was ineffective "in a myriad of ways." Skakel, in prison since 2002 for killing his neighbor when they were 15, was serving a sentence of 20 years to life.
Bridgeport State's Attorney John Smriga has appealed the decision from Bishop. But Skakel's lawyers said Skakel should be freed now because he already has served more than 11 years, is well known and is not a threat to disappear.
Bishop, in his ruling last month, said Skakel's first lawyer, Mickey 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. Bishop also found that Sherman failed to find a man who challenged the claim by a star witness that Skakel confessed.
Prosecutors have argued that the jury convicted Skakel based on the evidence -- which included three confessions and several incriminating statements by Skakel -- and that Sherman's legal efforts exceeded standards for a competent defense.
Bishop's ruling surprised John Moxley, the victim's brother.
"Having been in the courtroom during the trial, there were a lot of things that Mickey Sherman did very cleverly," Moxley said. "But the evidence was against him. And when the evidence is against you, there's almost nothing you can do.
"I don't care if it was Perry Mason," he said. "The state had the evidence. It was his own words and deeds that led to the conviction."
Prosecutors said that in addition to his statements, Skakel had a motive for the slaying.
"His drug-addled mental state, coupled with the infuriating knowledge that his hated brother Tommy had a sexual liaison with Martha, and the fact that Martha spurned his advances, triggered the rage which led him to beat her to death with a golf club," prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in arguing to uphold the conviction.
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.