Skakel denied new trial
By Martin B. Cassidy and Zach Lowe - Greenwich Time
Published October 26 2007
A state judge rejected Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's bid for a new criminal trial based on new evidence, discarding as flimsy a theory that implicated two Bronx, N.Y., teenagers in 15-year-old Martha Moxley's brutal 1975 murder.
Just days before the 33rd anniversary of the murder, State Superior Court Judge Edward Karazin Jr. ruled yesterday morning that the new evidence presented by Skakel's defense at an April hearing was available before his 2002 trial and anyway would not have likely swayed a jury to acquit the 48-year-old nephew of Ethel Skakel-Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy.
"We are extremely disappointed with the opinion denying Mr. Skakel's petition," Skakel's Hartford defense attorney Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos said in a statement. "Mr. Skakel was wrongly convicted and we intend to pursue all avenues available to him to overturn his unjust conviction."
In April Karazin Jr. heard more than two weeks of testimony on a petition for a new trial for Skakel, who contended that new evidence and testimony would have exonerated him if it had been available at his 2002 trial.
Skakel was convicted in 2002 of murdering Moxley in their Belle Haven neighborhood the night of Oct. 30, 1975, bludgeoning her to death with a golf club.
Karazin Jr. found that the 2003 interview of Gitano "Tony" Bryant, a Brunswick classmate of Skakel's, in which he told a private investigator his two friends Adolph Hasbrouck and Burt Tinsley confessed to killing Moxley, was not believable.
The judge noted that no other witnesses at the 2002 trial or the hearing placed Bryant or the other two youths being in Belle Haven on the night of the murder, and physical evidence did not bear out Bryant's claim that the two boys had described dragging her by the hair.
"The testimony of Bryant is absent any genuine corroboration," Karazin Jr. wrote. "It lacks credibility and therefore would not produce a different result at a new trial."
Karazin Jr. also rejected arguments that the prosecution improperly withheld or suppressed evidence that might have aided Skakel's defense, including suspect profiles and a composite sketch of a man seen near Moxley's home the night of the murder.
Karazin Jr. said the two suspect profiles of Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel's family tutor, and Thomas Skakel, Michael Skakel's older brother, in addition to a drawing of a man seen in Belle Haven the night of the murder, should have been requested by Skakel's defense attorney Michael Sherman.
At the hearing in April, Sherman said he filed a blanket request for all "exculpatory" evidence which he believed obligated the prosecution to turn over the evidence.
Prosecutors said the existence of the reports and sketch were mentioned in files turned over to the defense, and the man in the sketch was later identified and ruled out by police.
Karazin Jr. found that Sherman could have specifically sought the evidence in court motions, and failed to object when a judge overruled his request for the sketch.
"In light of the criminal trial record regarding when the petitioner became aware of the reports and his untimely request for them this evidence cannot be considered newly discovered," Karazin Jr. wrote of the Littleton profile.
Karazin Jr. also ruled the testimony at the April hearing of three private school classmates of Skakel who contradicted a prosecution witness' testimony at the criminal trial that Skakel confessed to the killing offered little heft to Skakel's bid.
At the 2002 trial prosecutors used the testimony of Gregory Coleman that Skakel confided he killed Moxley while they were both students at Elan School in Maine, and provided the three men as also present during the confession.
At the April hearing, Sherman and private investigators testified they went to great lengths and were unable to find the men.
Additional efforts could have found the men for Skakel's defense, and furthermore their testimony was akin to that of other Elan students who contradicted Coleman's testimony in the 2002 trial, Karazin Jr. said.
"The evidence to impeach Coleman is far from convincing in view of the case presented by the state at trial," Karazin Jr. wrote. "Thus when the limited impeachment value of the new evidence is considered in view of strong evidence of guilt presented at trial, it is apparent it would not lead to an acquittal or a retrial."
Karazin Jr. also rejected the defense's argument that Inspector Frank Garr, the prosecution's head investigator, had compromised his integrity by agreeing to help former Newsday reporter Leonard Levitt write a book about the case.
Garr and prosecutors defended Garr's impartiality, maintaining he did not work on the book until after Skakel's conviction.
Seeley's statement indicated defense attorneys will appeal the ruling to the state Appellate court, and also pursue a writ in state court charging that Sherman's performance and representation was subpar.
State Attorney Jonathan Benedict who argued against Skakel's petition said that Sherman's performance for Skakel was more than adequate.
"My own opinion is that he (Sherman) hit hard on every avenue of defense and did an excellent job in the case," Benedict said.
John Moxley, Martha Moxley's older brother, said he was pleasantly surprised Karazin ruled relatively swiftly, but said he had mostly expected the judge to see through Bryant's story and the other arguments.
"The longer it goes on the angrier you get," Moxley said. "It's amazing the Skakel family won't just stand up and be accountable."
Moxley said he has never seriously wavered in his belief in Michael Skakel's guilt. "We're certain that Michael Skakel is guilty, but that is never going to bring Martha back," Moxley said. "He'll get out of jail in 10 years and have some kind of life. Even where he is now É his worst day is better than what my sister has É she has no days."
Members of the Skakel family could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Seeley said she will also file a federal writ by November arguing the state should have turned over the composite sketch of the suspect.
Copyright © 2007, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.