Skakel lawyers say new evidence shows
STAMFORD -- Staff and wire reports
It was supposed to be a routine hearing to disburse reward money to key witnesses in the Michael Skakel murder case, until defense attorney Hope Seeley dropped a bombshell.
The defense team, Seeley said, has new and convincing evidence that Skakel is innocent of the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.
Skakel and Moxley were both 15 and neighbors in Greenwich when she was bludgeoned to death after leaving a gathering of friends at the Skakel home. The case remained unsolved for a quarter-century, until Skakel's arrest in January 2000.
Within the past week, Seeley told state Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. yesterday, the defense team has discovered new evidence strong enough to secure a new trial for Skakel, who was convicted 15 months ago and sentenced by Kavanewsky to 20 years in prison.
Skakel is the son of the late industrialist Rushton Skakel and nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. His trial last year drew international media attention.
"The information we will bring forth is very important and, from our position, shows our client was wrongfully convicted," Seeley told Kavanewsky.
Seeley wouldn't say what the information was, and Kavanewsky didn't press. Seeley said it would be detailed in a petition for a new trial that she expects to file this month. Fairfield State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Susann Gill, who prosecuted Skakel, said after yesterday's brief hearing they had no knowledge of the evidence Seeley contends she has.
Seeley is a seasoned and respected defense attorney, not given to bluffing lawyers or trifling with judges. After court yesterday she would not disclose the nature of the new evidence, but when asked whether it involved a new perspective on evidence already presented during Skakel's trial, she replied, "No. It's brand new."
The defense claim of compelling new evidence was made for the first time yesterday, in a two-page objection to the disbursement of reward money.
Seeley argued yesterday that if Kavanewsky approves the parsing out of the $20,000 among three witnesses, he would be placing his "stamp of approval" on the credibility of those witnesses and thus taint Skakel's right to a fair and impartial jury in the event of a new trial.
Kavanewsky said he will consider the arguments and notify counsel when a decision is made. He did not give a time frame.
"I think it's premature to rule on this because if Michael Skakel gets a new trial and we won, then why should they get a reward," Seeley said after the court proceedings.
Benedict disagreed. "There are no grounds of law for the court not to set rewards now," he said outside the courtroom.
The reward dates to 1976, when then-Gov. Ella Grasso offered up to $20,000 to anyone supplying information leading to the arrest and conviction of Moxley's killer.
In Benedict's petition, he asked that $10,000 of the reward go to John Higgins and that Charles Seigan and Elizabeth Coleman each receive $5,000.
In 1996, Seigan came forward and said he attended the Elan School in Maine with Skakel from 1978 to 1980, Benedict's petition states. He said Skakel made a number of admissions at the substance abuse treatment center about the murder.
Seigan said Skakel made incriminating statements to Higgins, another student at the school, according to the petition. Seigan later testified at trial.
Higgins told investigators that while at Elan, Skakel confided that he murdered Moxley, court papers say. He testified before the grand jury, at preliminary hearings and at Skakel's murder trial.
Gregory Coleman appeared before the grand jury and at two preliminary hearings after Skakel's arrest. Each time, Coleman testified that Skakel told him he murdered a young female neighbor by "driving a golf club into her skull," the petition states.
Coleman died before Skakel's trial; however, his testimony was presented into evidence by the state at the trial.
Elizabeth Coleman, his former wife, testified at the trial that Coleman described his conversations with Skakel to her on many occasions. Her testimony was used to corroborate Gregory Coleman's statements, the petition states.
In her objection to the state's petition, Seeley says she has appealed Skakel's conviction to the Connecticut Supreme Court. She said the appeal raises questions relating to the court's ruling and prosecutorial misconduct.
Skakel, 42, has been in several prisons since his sentencing, and is now housed at MacDougall Correctional Institution in Suffield.
-- This story was written by Lynne Tuohy of The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, and Advocate Staff Writer Eve Sullivan.
Copyright © 2003, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.