Skakel lawyer: Client's words swayed jury
By Franci Richardson - Boston Herold
The attorney for convicted killer Michael Skakel yesterday said he thinks that an audiotape of his client saying he was at the crime scene the night Martha Moxley was murdered in 1975 swayed the jurors against him.
``I've always regretted that I could never take those words out of Michael Skakel's mouth in his book proposal, which placed him at the scene,'' said defense attorney Michael ``Mickey'' Sherman.
In a 1998 taped interview with a Cambridge author writing a book about life as a Kennedy relative, Skakel said he was masturbating in a tree on the Moxley property the night she was murdered. That audiotape was played to jurors at trial.
Moxley was 15 when she was bludgeoned to death with a Skakel family golf club the night of Oct. 30, 1975. She had been walking home from the Skakel mansion and was found on the front lawn of her posh Greenwich home.
``That definitely was important - the tapes from the book proposal and him being in the tree that night,'' said Bill Smith, a juror from Darien, Conn. who presided over the five-week trial. Moxley's body was found beneath that tree.
Despite the tapes, Sherman maintains his client's innocence and said yesterday he will appeal the guilty verdict to the Connecticut Supreme Court on the grounds the Skakel should have been tried as a juvenile - not an adult - because he was just 15 when he murdered Moxley.
``It will be done after he's sentenced . . . (and) there'll be several other'' points of appeal, said Sherman. ``I so believe in Michael Skakel's innocence that I'm just dumbfounded that 12 people could agree that he's guilty without any credible evidence.''
The nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow Ethel, Skakel, 41, has been jailed since Friday after the jury found him guilty of first degree murder.
Smith said ``the sum total'' of circumstantial evidence, including Skakel's own confession to a Greenwich barber, a plea to his family's driver to help him get out of the country, and the audiotape, brought the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
During the trial, Greenwich hairdresser Matthew Tucciarone testified that a boy he identified as Skakel told him that he had ``killed before'' during a haircut in late 1975 or the spring of 1976.
Also, Lawrence Zicarelli, a former driver for the Skakel family testified that Skakel told him in 1977 that, ``I've done something really bad and I've got to get out of the country or I'll kill myself.''
``It wasn't the only thing for me. It was the sum total of all the circumstantial evidence,'' said Smith.
``I had trouble with the alibi, but everything weighed into it. Those two things (the barber and driver's testimony) really added into my equation.''
Another juror, Catherine J. Lazansky, told the Herald that it was Michael Skakel's own words that swayed most jurors against him.
``We came to the conclusion we did because (in part) some of the things he said placed himself at the scene of the crime,'' said juror Catherine J. Lazansky of Greenwich, who refused to elaborate.
Before the trial, Sherman fought all the way to the state Supreme Court to have Skakel stand trial as a juvenile because he was 15 when the murder occurred. The court said it could not rule on the issue until Skakel had been tried.
After his July 19 sentencing, Sherman said he'll revisit the same issue with the Supreme Court.
Moxley's mother, Dorthy, yesterday said she expected this kind of last-ditch legal maneuvering.
``We thought for sure that was going to happen,'' Moxley, 70, said yesterday from her New Jersey home. ``We'll just keep going with it. I feel we've succeeded by doing what we've done.''
Dominick Dunne, who wrote ``Season of Purgatory,'' a 1993 book based on the Moxley murder, belittled the notion of trying Skakel as a juvenile.
``I mean it would have been ridiculous to have tried this 41-year-old slob as a juvenile. It would have been laughable,'' Dunne said from his Manhattan office. ``He got tried exactly the way he should have been tried and the verdict reached is exactly the verdict that should have been reached.''
Asked if he thought the defense's tactic had any promise, Dunne said, ``Listen, he got convicted. If a verdict is overthrown on some technicality, that's not going to make him innocent.''
Juror foreman Kevin Cambra said he underwent what he called the ``emotional experience'' when he announced the verdict in court. The 12 jurors adjourned, but soon reunited over a long lunch at a local restaurant to debrief.
The jurors decided informally not to make immediate statements to the press, in part because they didn't want to give Skakel ammunition for his appeal, one anonymous juror told the Herald.
Sherman was outraged by that notion.
``Doesn't that say something right there?'' Sherman said of the juror pact. ``It says they have some kind of personal animosity there.''
Sherman said he knew the jury didn't like the looks of his burly, long-haired, red-faced client.
``They thought he looked arrogant,'' Sherman said. ``They thought he looked rich. That was a difficult perception to battle.''
Sherman cited the lack of hardcore evidence in the case and downplayed the importance of the circumstantial evidence the jury ultimately embraced.
``I think it says I had to prove he was innocent instead of the state having to prove he was guilty,'' he said.
After his conviction, Skakel was taken to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn., which is a reception center.
By Friday night, he was transported to high-security Garner Correctional Institute in Newtown, where he received a red jumpsuit and inmate identification number 301382, according to a corrections spokesman.
Since then, Skakel has eaten and slept in an 8-foot by 10-foot single cell which contains a bed and a toilet and sink unit.
He is allowed an hour of recreation twice a day, where he can roam the prison yard or make collect calls from a guard-monitored pay phone. He is entitled to shower every day, if he chooses, Garnett said