Kennedy cousin sentenced to
20 years to life for Moxley murder
By John Springer - Court TV

NORWALK, Conn. In a rambling and emotional speech peppered with references to God and Jesus Christ, Michael Skakel told a crowded courtroom that he did not kill Martha Moxley, and begged a judge for a lenient sentence.

Skakel, 41, sobbed intermittently as he asked Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. to think of his toddler, George, who would be without a father if Skakel were sent to prison for many years.

"I guess I just want you to have mercy on him," said Skakel, who faced a maximum of 25 years to life.

The judge meted out a sentence of 20 years to life, telling Skakel that while the Kennedy kin's life of sobriety in recent years was a positive improvement, he could not ignore the brutal nature of the crime. Moxley, 15, was bludgeoned to death with a golf club on Oct. 30, 1975, in the posh Greenwich, Conn., neighborhood where her family and the Skakels lived.

"In the court's view, mitigation carries the defendant only so far in the case," Judge Kavanewsky said. "The murder was not only violent, but it was vicious."

The judge also told the defendant that he had eluded justice long enough. For the past 20 years, the judge said, "the defendant has been living a lie about his guilt. Most importantly, this defendant accepts no responsibility and expresses no remorse to the present day."

The nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy was convicted June 7 of the murder, which prosecutors argued was triggered by sibling rivalry over Martha's affections.

Skakel, who did not testify in his own defense during his five-week trial, spoke for the first time publicly on Thursday. Skakel's sometimes rambling 10-minute speech included several references to God, whom he says came to him on Oct. 25, 1982, the first day of his sobriety. He also at one point compared himself to Jesus Christ.

"My son told me on Easter, 'Dad, mom says you are going to prison and only bad men go to prison,'" Skakel told the judge, explaining that he told his son, now 3, that Jesus had once been imprisoned. Skakel was divorced from his wife, Margot, in 2001.

Again, Skakel told the court that he had not committed the brutal murder nearly 27 years ago. "I have been accused of a horrific thing," he told the judge. "I would love to be able to tell you I did it so that [the Moxleys] could sleep and have peace. I can't do that, your Honor. That would be a lie in front of my God."

Earlier this week, relatives of Skakel pleaded with the court for leniency, saying that Skakel had had a troubled upbringing. Skakel himself talked about his dysfunctional family, where there may have been money, but no love. He spoke about his inability to find work since detective-turned-writer Mark Fuhrman published a book about the case in 1998, implicating him as the killer.

Skakel then surprised the court by turning to face Fuhrman, who sat near the Moxley family in the court's gallery. "This man over here, Mr. Fuhrman, wrote a book about me filled with lies," he said.

After they convicted him in June, jurors said in interviews that they believed Skakel killed Martha in a jealous rage and that members of his family helped cover up the crime over the years.

Skakel, the only person ever charged, was not the only suspect. Police initially suspected his older brother, Thomas Skakel, but were unable to persuade a prosecutor to sign an arrest warrant in 1976. A family employee, live-in tutor Kenneth Littleton, was also a suspect.

Jurors, however, rejected defense attempts to argue that the evidence against Skakel was an effort by prosecutors to bring closure to the unsolved case by any means possible. Members of the panel said they believed that Skakel was telling the truth when he told numerous witnesses, including several at Maine reform school in the late 1970s, that he may have blacked out and killed Martha but was not sure.

After his sentencing, Skakel was led away in handcuffs. He will serve out his time at one of Connecticut's maximum-security prisons in the northwest part of the state, about as far as one can travel from Skakel's privileged upbringing in Greenwich and still be in the Constitution State.

His sentencing merely closes one chapter in a seemingly never ending saga that has inspired two non-fiction books, a novel by Dominick Dunne and a television mini-series based on the novel, Skakel's supporters say. The appellate issues, including a defense claim that Skakel never should have been tried as an adult for a crime committed when he was 15 years old, have merit and are giving Skakel hope, they say.

Under 1975 law, Skakel could get out of prison by 2013 if he behaves and takes a prison job. An appeal based on pre-trial rulings and evidentiary issues raised during and after the trial, is planned.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Martha's mother, Dorthy, said she had "no doubt" that Skakel had killed her daughter. "It is my general nature to have a little sympathy toward everybody," she said, "but I still feel he has to be punished for what he did to Martha and so many other people."

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