How Skakel spent last night of freedom
He told friend verdict was 'in God's hands'
By Ken Borsuk and Peter Moore - Greenwich Post

Last Thursday night, Joey Testa had dinner with his friend Michael Skakel at the home of Skakel's aunt Anne McCooey. Unbeknownst to either man, it would be Skakel's last night of freedom.

That night, Testa, 24, of Greenwich, said family members were extremely nervous. All except Skakel.

"He was at peace," Testa said, of Skakel, a reportedly devout Catholic who had told those close to him that he had placed the verdict of his murder trial "in God's hands."

Testa said he'd kept Skakel "in my prayers every day." On Friday morning, before the verdict, he called a Skakel family priest, leaving a voice-mail message.

"Tell Michael he's in the palm of God's hand," Testa told the priest.

Then Testa got news of the verdict from his New York City workplace: Guilty.

"And I thought, 'Where is God in all this?'" Testa said.

The guilty verdict in the murder trial of Michael Skakel left his supporters in stunned disbelief.

Skakel was found guilty for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley and faces up to life in prison.

After waiting in obvious and largely silent tension, an audible gasp rang out in the courtroom when jury foreman Kevin Cambra, of Wilton, announced the verdict. As the happy and relieved faces filled the rows of the Moxley friends and family, the Skakel family was left in tears.

Michael's brother, David Skakel, and McCooey wept openly after the verdict and, as the family and supporters gathered, eyes turned red. Skakel's attorneys, Michael Sherman, Mark Sherman and Jason Throne, appeared shocked by the verdict and joined the family and friends in an air of devastated silence as the court cleared.

Skakel family members began reacting as soon as the verdict was announced and appeared horrified as handcuffs were slapped on one of their own. Skakel flinched when Cambra intoned the word "guilty."

Then after the jury was polled. Judge John Kavanewsky, Jr. asked lawyers for the prosecution and defense if they had anything to say before he excused the jury.

"I'd like to say something," Skakel interrupted.

"No sir," Kavanewsky said quickly.

As Skakel was being handcuffed, David Skakel reached out to touch his brother's shoulder. A judicial marshal pushed his hand away.

The verdict left all the members of the family visibly shaken and stunned among the happy cheers of the Moxleys and members of the public. Skakel's family and friends milled around each other almost aimlessly as they struggled to come to terms with the verdict. Supportive and comforting hugs were traded and an unidentified family friend remarked, "How quickly can we get in the cars and go?"

The Skakel family members and supporters were the last to leave the courtroom and quickly went into another vacant courtroom to compose themselves. Vito Colucci, Jr., a private investigator retained by Michael Sherman to work on the case, said tears were shed by just about everyone in the meeting, including the attorneys.

However, Colucci said that the Skakel's were ready for the legal fights that were still to come.

"Their resolve is very strong," Colucci said. "They're a very tight-knit family."

"Michael is innocent," David Skakel, Michael's younger brother, said outside the courthouse after the verdict was delivered. "I know it because I know him like only a brother knows. Our family has under great suspicion for 27 years. We all stand behind Michael not out of loyalty, but out of intimate understanding."

David Skakel, who lives in Oregon, said the Skakel family had the deepest respect for the Moxleys and he said he understood their desire for closure in the death of Martha. However, he added that his brother was innocent.

"The truth is more important than closure," he said.

Stephen Skakel had been the most visible member of the family throughout the trial. He appeared in court with his brother every day since the beginning of jury selection and he too appeared devastated by the verdict.

"I love my brother and I believe he's innocent," he said. "I will fight for him with my last breath."

Sherman said many people held the wrong idea about Michael Skakel. He said he had been spun into an arrogant brat who thought he could get away with anything.

Sherman said Skakel was "a genuine and sincere person."

The emotional reaction to the verdict didn't stop with Skakel's family, friends and attorneys. People who have worked for Skakel also expressed their shock and dismay.

"I feel like I lost a brother today," said Kris Steele, Skakel's bodyguard. "It's not a feeling I wish on anyone.

"I'm devastated," he later added. "I believed in him since day one. Never in my mind, as I sat there in the courtroom every day, did I think there would be a guilty verdict."

Steele and Colucci, who also declared his belief in Skakel's innocence, said they would stand behind Skakel throughout the appeals process.

Details of the appeal were unavailable at press time.

Steele stated the widely held view that the end of the road for this case is a long way off.

"I don't think anyone thinks this is really over," Steele said. "There's a lot to come."

Of his client, Steele added, "He knew in his heart he didn't do it."

Testa, Skakel's friend, said he expected Skakel would eventually be exonerated.

"I'm sure what is wrong today will be corrected," he said.

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