Family Seeks Support, Money For Skakel's Appeal
Amy Pagnozzi - Hartford Courant
Cousin, can you spare a dime for our brother's appeal?
That's the grim message dispatched by Skakel siblings Stephen and Julie, who are urging friends and family to send letters of support and "discreet" donations to their convicted killer brother Michael.
"Michael's best (if only) hope is his legal appeal to the state Supreme Court," states Stephen Skakel, Michael's closest brother and the youngest of Rushton Sr.'s seven offspring, in a widely distributed e-mail.
"Thanks so much to those who contributed in the past. ... Please assume that Michael's financial resources for appeal are non-existent at this time," he adds, asking checks be made payable to the "NEVER GIVE UP FUND" and sent to Julie's home in Darien.
Though there has been talk about the Skakel fortune dwindling, few of their intimates were aware before that Michael's situation was this dire - especially given the prosperous lifestyle he and other family continued to maintain.
Asked whether the Skakel family had made good on his legal bill thus far, Michael's defense lawyer Mickey Sherman replied "yes" - adding when pressed that he'd been paid "in full."
"Hey, I'm just a lawyer. I am not involved with the family finances," Sherman answered, when asked how the multimillion-dollar oil fortune generated by Michael's grandfather George Skakel could be thus diminished.
He said he didn't know how much money had been raised so far for the appeal. But as for the first part of Stephen's e-mail asking letters be written to sentencing Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. attesting to Michael's character, Sherman said he had received "many, many ... yes, I would say in the dozens."
Stephen suggested "talking points" to include in the letters, noting their purpose was "to plead for a less severe sentence for Michael. The judge is considering a range from 10 years to life in prison."
The talking points included:
"Known Michael for how long; in what capacity; best impressions of Michael (i.e.: honest, integrity, good father ...); Anecdote (i.e. helped me get sober, mentor to my children, etc.); Please be lenient on Michael's sentence (if not for his son George)."
Stephen also asked for ongoing correspondence with Michael at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, where he is imprisoned:
"The purpose of these letters is to give Michael a sense of HOPE (and to ease his despair). Each day in prison (especially solitary confinement) is an eternity for him. ... He is scared and ultimately humbled. Michael says to send his love to all of his friends. His Son George is the center of Michael's life, and he needs assurance that George is doing well, and that `the tide is changing', and that the Cavalry is coming!!!"
Michael's son George, 3, namesake of his millionaire industrialist grandfather, was the subject of a custody battle before his conviction. Skakel's ex-wife, golf pro Margo Sheridan, divorced him in 2000, shortly after his arrest for Martha Moxley's 1975 murder.
In a prison interview with the New York Post in early June, Michael said that while he may not have had much of a marriage, his son George "is everything" to me. "Tell little George I love him with every ounce of my body. I love him so much, man."
In that respect, at least, Michael should be able to identify with Dorthy Moxley, who cared for her 15-year-old daughter Martha at least as much - her motherly love fueling a stalwart battle for 27 years to bring Martha's killer to justice.
Yet one of the first things the Moxleys - both mother Dorthy and son John - said upon Michael's conviction was to express their deepest sympathy to his friends and family, knowing so much what it feels like to suffer the loss of a beloved presence.
And Michael is beloved - despite being raised in a family where affection was scarce and parental discipline nonexistent.
I tried to reach both Stephen and his only sister, Julie - whose influence in bringing her estranged kinfolk together has been particularly important.
With Rushton Skakel's first wife dead at an early age from nodular malignant melanoma, his seven young children were motherless.
Ever since Michael's arrest, Julie supplied what maternal support she could to Michael and her siblings by welcoming him, his defense team and supporters into her Darien home daily.
Never Give Up. That's the name Julie gave to Michael's legal defense fund.
Wherever Did the Money Go - and When?
That's what I wanted to ask Julie, knowing how many millions their former railroad worker grandfather generated from his fortune-making discovery that mixing oil residue with coal creates masses of heat and energy.
But that is something we may never know - beyond observing that in the sad history of the Skakels, whenever family members mix, combustive reactions take place, all too often more destructive than fortunate.