Skakel's lawyers to seek a new trial
By Lynne Tuohy - The Hartford Courant

STAMFORD -- 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 the gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven when she was bludgeoned to death after leaving a gathering of friends at the Skakel estate. The case remained unsolved for a quarter-century, until Skakel's arrest in January 2000.

Within the past week, Seeley told Superior Court Judge John F. 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 cousin to the children of former U.S. senator and assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and 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.

What information? Seeley wouldn't say and Kavanewsky didn't press. Seeley said it would be detailed in a petition for a new trial that she expects to file before the month is out. 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 highly 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 if 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.

The state proposes dividing the reward as follows:

* $10,000 to John Higgins, a former classmate of Skakel's at the Elan School for troubled teens in Poland Springs, Maine. Higgins testified that Skakel, in a rambling conversation one night, concluded he must have killed Moxley and said, "I did it." Higgins, a reluctant witness who said he never wanted to get involved, traveled from Chicago to the state five times to testify before various hearings.

* $5,000 to Charles "Chuck" Seigan, another Elan classmate. Seigan testified that Skakel would cry when questioned in group therapy sessions about the Moxley murder and say he didn't know if he killed her. It was Seigan who steered investigators to Higgins.

* $5,000 to Elizabeth Cole-man, widow of Gregory Coleman, who died of a drug overdose between the preliminary hearing and Skakel's trial. A transcript of his testimony during the probable cause hearing was read to jurors. Coleman testified he had been assigned to guard Skakel after his return to Elan from a runaway attempt, and had marveled at all the privileges Skakel was still allowed while on disciplinary status, including a stereo. Coleman remarked that Skakel could get away with murder, to which he said Skakel replied, "I'm going to get away with murder because I'm a Kennedy." Coleman also detailed other occasions on which Skakel allegedly confessed to the killing.

Copyright 2003, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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