Skakel Sentenced: 20 Years To Life
By Staff and Wire Reports
The Hartford Courant

NORWALK -- Michael Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life today for the brutal 1975 killing of Martha Moxley, but continued to profess his innocence.

Skakel wept during the 20 minutes he spoke in the court.

"I would love to be able to say I did the crime so that the Moxley family could have peace," Skakel said, sobbing. "But to do that would be a lie."

He spoke about God and said "his laws tell me I cannot bear false witness against anybody or myself."

He was stoic as Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. sentenced him.

Skakel, 41, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was convicted in June of beating Martha to death when they were 15-year-old neighbors in Greenwich. He plans an appeal.

Earlier, prosecutor Jonathan Benedict said Skakel had dodged the truth for more than a quarter-century. "We submit it is time to face reality," he said.

Kavanewsky agreed.

"For the past 25 years or more ... the defendant has been living a lie about his guilt," the judge said. "The defendant has accepted no responsibility, he has expressed no remorse."

Therefore, Kavanewsky said, he was giving Skakel "a more substantial sentence." Under the guidelines in effect in 1975, Skakel could have received a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life.

Defense lawyers Mickey Sherman and Hubert Santos spent much of Wednesday morning arguing for a new trial, based on numerous claims. These ranged from errors in Kavanewsky's instructions to the jury, to whether prosecutors used "subliminal messaging" during final arguments, by projecting crime scene and portrait photos of Moxley onto the wall as they played a tape recording of Skakel's own words.

Chief among the defense claims was the failure by prosecutors to turn over a police composite sketch of a man seen walking in the area of the Moxley and Skakel homes in Greenwich at about the time the murder was thought to have occurred.

Kavanewsky denied them all, singling out one claim "that appears to be the product of an afterthought." That as in reference to the possibility of subliminal messaging, which Kavanewsky noted was never objected to during, or after, the state's final arguments. The judge also noted that the defense team had in its possession information referring to the composite sketch but did not pursue it. In denying another motion for a new trial based on his failure to instruct the jury on extreme emotional disturbance, Kavanewsky stressed that Sherman had objected strenuously in chambers to that option.

The new defense team of Santos and Hope Seeley may have lost all bids for a judgment of acquittal or a new trial, but laid a foundation for an appeal down the line based on a claim that Sherman's representation of Skakel at trial was ineffective.

Before the sentencing today, Sherman read letters from numerous supporters, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who said Skakel helped him fight addiction.

Sherman also noted a pre-sentencing report compiled by a probation officer, which Sherman said did not recommend a life sentence.

"She agrees he does not pose a threat to society and he is an entirely different person than he was at 15," Sherman said.

At trial, prosecution witnesses said Skakel was romantically interested in Moxley but suggested he was upset because his older brother, Thomas, an early suspect in the slaying, was making advances on the attractive blonde.

The case went unsolved for decades, creating speculation that wealth, privilege and the Kennedy connection had protected the Skakel family. Meanwhile, Benedict said today, Skakel "thumbed his nose at this family of grieving neighbors."

Attention turned to Michael in the early 1990s, when he gave new details of his activities the night of the murder to a private investigator hired by the Skakel family. Books about the case were written by Dominick Dunne, former Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman, and journalist Tim Dumas.

Skakel was arrested in 2000 after an investigation by a one-judge grand jury. He declared his innocence and fought to have the case heard in juvenile court, only to have a judge rule the state had no juvenile facility in which to lock up a middle-aged man.

The case was transferred to adult court in January 2001.

Prosecutors had no eyewitnesses and little forensic evidence. Instead they presented about a dozen people who said they had heard Skakel confess or make incriminating statements, starting the day Moxley's body was found. Among them were a Skakel family chauffeur and former classmates of Skakel at a substance abuse treatment center in Maine.

One witness, Gregory Coleman, was dead of heroin use by the time Skakel's trial began. But prosecutors were permitted to read Coleman's pretrial testimony into the record, including an allegation that Skakel once told him: "I'm going to get away with murder, because I'm a Kennedy."

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