Skakel bid for new trial denied;
sentencing set for today
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
NORWALK -- A judge yesterday rebuffed Michael Skakel's last-minute bid for a new trial, eliminating any chance the convicted murderer had to avoid a prison sentence and rejecting defense arguments that Skakel did not get a fair trial for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.
In a packed courtroom filled with mostly familiar faces from the five-week trial this spring, Skakel's trial attorney, Michael Sherman, and his new appellate attorney, Hubert Santos, argued unsuccessfully that prosecutors withheld evidence and the judge erred when instructing the jury.
Their client will be sentenced today by Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. He faces a minimum sentence of 10 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life. The actual time he serves will depend on the sentence, credit for time served, good behavior and other factors.
Skakel, who has been jailed since the verdict, was convicted June 7 of murdering Moxley, his teenage Belle Haven neighbor, with his deceased mother's golf club. Witnesses testified Skakel had a crush on Moxley, and prosecutors suggested her death was a crime of passion.
Yesterday, Santos and Sherman presented four post-verdict motions that were denied by Kavanewsky, including a motion to set aside the verdict, a motion for acquittal, a motion for a new trial and a motion for arrest of judgment.
Skakel, meanwhile, arrived at court in a tan prison jumpsuit but changed into a dark suit before the proceedings began. He appeared thinner and less florid, and sported a fresh haircut as he sat at his legal table with cuffs around his ankles.
The defense attorneys claimed that Skakel deserves a new trial because prosecutors, despite numerous requests, failed to hand over all exculpatory evidence until after Skakel was convicted. The evidence cited included a composite sketch of a man stopped by police the night of the murder near the spot where Martha's body was found under a tree in her yard.
A special police officer working in Belle Haven on Oct. 30, 1975, the night of the murder, recalled that he saw the same person near the Moxley house at about 10 p.m., when many people believe Moxley was murdered.
Santos claimed the person in the sketch closely resembled Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel family's live-in tutor and a former suspect in the case. Throughout the trial, Sherman tried to pinpoint Littleton as the killer.
"How can this just be dismissed?" Santos asked rhetorically. "I think the verdict would've been very different or at a minimum there would have been a hung jury."
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill countered that at least two police reports turned over to the defense made mention of the sketch and the defense could have asked to see it. She also said the sketch was identified as a neighbor of the Moxleys who told police he was home from 8 p.m. through the rest of the night, with his father corroborating his statement. Gill noted that Littleton had an alibi as well.
Santos argued the state also withheld investigative books and tapes compiling their evidence on Littleton and Michael Skakel's brother Thomas Skakel, who was an earlier suspect.
"These are matters that should have been disclosed in the year 2000," Santos said, referring to the year Skakel was arrested.
Santos said that the state's case was shaky since much of its material came out of privileged information compiled by Sutton Associates, a private investigative firm hired by the Skakel family in the early 1990s. He asked for a separate hearing on the issue, a request Kavanewsky denied along with requests for other hearings.
"I do not think the state's attorney has any right to accept privileged documents," Santos said.
Gill countered that nothing from the Sutton Report was used during the trial and that the report was made public in 1995 in a Newsday article and has since been available on the Internet.
Sherman argued briefly to the judge that the state's multimedia presentation during closing arguments inflamed the jury by using gruesome photos of Moxley's slain body while airing Skakel's own statements from a tape.
"I think it was terrific if you're selling cars," Sherman said. "But they have used these subliminal message techniques."
Sherman also objected to the admission of Moxley's diary and to testimony from a deceased witness who said Skakel admitted to killing Moxley at a substance abuse center.
Any objections to admissibility, the closing argument or the judge's charge to the jury should have been dealt with at the time, Gill said.
"That opportunity is long gone," she said.
She also said the motion for a new trial should have been filed within five days of the verdict.
After the lunch recess, Kavanewsky issued his rulings, denying all of the post-verdict motions and deciding that Skakel will be sentenced today.
Yesterday's early afternoon hours were filled with statements from Moxley family members and friends, who asked for a life sentence for Skakel. Several Skakel friends spoke as well, asking the judge for leniency.
Two or three more Skakel family members and friends are expected to speak this morning -- and Skakel could speak should he choose to -- before Kavanewsky issues the sentence.
Skakel's attorneys have indicated through a motion that they will try to get him released on bail, thereby staying his sentence until his appeals are resolved. That issue will be argued today following the sentencing.