Judge denies Skakel last-minute bid for a new trial
By John Springer - Court TV
NORWALK, Conn. — A judge denied Michael Skakel a last-minute bid for a new trial Wednesday, rejecting arguments that prosecutors withheld evidence implicating someone else in the murder of his teenage neighbor 26 years ago.
The Kennedy cousin's lawyers argued that the evidence, including a sketch of a man seen near the crime scene in 1975, could have acquitted their client.
Skakel was convicted in June of killing Moxley on Oct. 30, 1975. Prosecutors claimed he was jealous of her interest in his older brother. He faces 10 years to life in prison when sentenced Thursday.
The victim's mother made an emotional plea to the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Skakel.
"It is so hard for me to think of the way Martha died and how frightened she could have been," Dorthy Moxley, now 70, said. "For years I prayed that she did not see the first blow from the golf club coming and that she died immmediately after that first blow … I know now that isn't the way it happened. I know now that she must have been very frightened and suffered a great deal."
The case has drawn international attention because of Skakel's Kennedy connection (he is the nephew of the late Robert F. Kennedy). The crowd in the courtroom Wednesday included the usual cast of characters who attended the five-week trial earlier this year, including detective-turned-writer Mark Fuhrman, of O.J. Simpson trial fame, celebrity crime writer Dominick Dunne as well as Skakel siblings and Moxley's mother and brother.
Skakel, 41, who arrived at the courthouse in a tan prison-issue jumpsuit, changed into a suit and tie before entering the court gallery and was sporting a fresh haircut. He sat next to his lawyers at the defense table, which was surrounded by armed guards.
In a 52-page motion filed Monday seeking to have Skakel's conviction overturned, the defense claimed that the prosecution did not turn over exculpatory evidence until after Skakel was convicted, despite numerous requests.
After Skakel was convicted, prosecutors gave the defense a composite sketch of a man who was stopped briefly by police the night of the murder, not far from where Martha's partially-clad and bludgeoned body was later discovered. A police officer recalled that he saw the same person at about 10 p.m., about the time police initially concluded — although prosecutors have backed off of that claim — that Martha died.
The defense claims the person in the composite bears a "striking resemblance" to the way the Skakel family's live-in tutor, Kenneth Littleton looked at the time. Littleton, who has had mental health problems for much of his adult life, was a prime suspect for many years.
In court on Wednesday, Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill told Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky that numerous police reports turned over to the defense mentioned the existence of the sketch and the defense had access to the state's file. It was unclear, however, whether the composite was in the file when defense lawyers examined it.
In any event, the defense argued, composite sketches of any suspect were demanded during discovery and the state had an obligation to turn this sketch over. According to defense lawyer Hubert Santos, having a composite sketch of someone that resembled Littleton could have changed the outcome of Skakel's trial.
"I respectfully submit, your honor, that had he had this additional evidence, it is more reasonable than not to assume that the verdict would have been different or at a minimum there would be a hung jury," Santos said.
Part of Skakel's defense was that investigators believed so strongly that the Littleton was the killer that they even tried during the early '90s, according to testimony and court documents, to get Littleton to confess to the killing by recruiting his former wife to get him to talk. Littleton never admitted to having even met Martha Moxley, let alone kill her, but can be heard on tapes agreeing with his ex-wife that she told him once that he confessed during an alcohol-induced blackout.
Testimony about Littleton took up about a week of Skakel's trial by about a week, but jurors interviewed after the verdict said that they were convinced that Littleton was nothing more than a potential patsy that Skakel hoped would take the fall for him.
Investigators concluded in 1975 that the person depicted in the sketch was not Littleton but instead Carl Wold, a 23-year-old who lived nearby on Walsh Lane. Wold remembered telling an officer early in the evening that he was headed home and insists he was home between 9 p.m. and midnight. He told investigators that he watched the television premiere of the movie "The French Connection" that night.
Prosecutors contend that there were numerous references to the sketch in reports that Skakel's lawyers had prior to the trial, suggesting that the defense should have raised the issue of the composite sooner.
The issue of the sketch is not the only one being raised to aid the record for a promised appeal. Defense lawyer Santos said at the start of the hearing that numerous other complaints about evidence admitted during the trial and Kavanewsky's instructions to the jury about motive, or the absence of one, were being raised.
The defense claims in pre-sentencing memorandums that Skakel's problems as a teenager resulted from abuse by his father, who started drinking heavily when his wife, Ann Skakel, died of cancer in 1973.
The defense also alleged that Rushton Skakel Sr. fired a rifle at Michael Skakel while hunting and that nannies hit Skakel and his brothers with spoons and pots.
"Many times these nannies locked the children in their rooms," the motion states. The lawyers also contended, as witnesses did during the trial, that Skakel was physically and emotionally abused at Elan School, a substance abuse treatment center in Maine in 1978. It was while attending Elan that Skakel told several classmates the same story: that he may have been drunk, blacked out and killed Martha because of her interest in his brother, Thomas Skakel.
John Moxley, who was 18 when his sister was killed, told reporters outside that courthouse that Skakel's successful effort to stop drinking and his record of accomplishments as an adult do not wipe the slate clean.
"I'm sure there are people whose lives he affected in a positive way," Moxley said. "That does not for a minute outweigh what he's done to our family."
Having basically told Skakel to go to the appeals court to wage his complaints about the trial and verdict, Judge Kavanewsky must now impose a sentence on Skakel. He faces between 10 years to life in prison and 25 years to life in prison.
Under 1975 guidelines, Skakel could be out as early as 2008. He would be imprisoned until at least 2015 if Kavanewsky gives him the maximum and the promised appeals fail.
Dorthy Moxley said that Skakel deserves what she got.
"Michael Skakel sentenced us to life without Martha," she told the judge. "I think he should be responsible for his actions, so it is only fair that he serve a similar sentence. I think he should spend the rest of his life in jail. I think his sentence should be life."