Skakel appeals murder conviction
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
Michael Skakel's attorneys filed an appeal of his murder conviction on multiple grounds yesterday, arguing chiefly that a five-year statute of limitations should have barred Skakel's arrest 25 years after the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley, according to documents filed yesterday at the state Supreme Court in Hartford.
The appeal also states that the guilty verdict should be overturned because prosecutors said falsely that the Skakel family attempted to cover up the murder in the 1970s and that Skakel masturbated on Moxley's body when there was no such evidence.
The appeal also criticized the prosecutorial team for calling Skakel "the killer" and a "spoiled brat" in court, saying it was an effort to inflame the jury.
"The state asked the jury to conclude that Michael Skakel was guilty of murder because even his own family thought he was the 'killer,' " the appeal says.
"The misconduct was pervasive, it was effective and it deprived Mr. Skakel of a fair trial," Skakel's attorneys wrote.
The appeal is to be argued by attorney Hope Seeley before the Supreme Court as early as spring.
Skakel, 43, was convicted in June 2002 of using a golf club to fatally beat Moxley, his 15-year-old Belle Haven neighbor, in 1975. He is serving a prison sentence of 20 years to life.
Reached last night at home, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, chief prosecutor on the case, said prosecutors would not comment on the appeal until they had a chance to read it.
"Nothing was indicated that involved an issue that has not already been litigated," Benedict said. "We'll take time to digest it and we probably won't have any comments on it until we make our comments before the Supreme Court, hopefully in late spring."
Two years ago, a judge denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Skakel on the grounds that in 1975 a five-year statute of limitations applied to noncapital murder cases.
The law had been amended in 1976 to eliminate statutes of limitations for the most serious felonies, including murder.
In their brief yesterday, Seeley and her legal team, including partner Hubert Santos, also wrote that Skakel's case should never have been transferred from juvenile court because he was 15 at the time of the murder.
They argued that the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense, including a composite sketch by a Belle Haven security guard of a man the defense says allegedly resembled Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel family tutor and an earlier suspect.
Prosecutors have said Skakel's defense team had all the police reports that mentioned the sketch. They also have said the sketch would not influence jurors to consider Littleton a serious suspect because he had an alibi.
The appellate team also argued against the state's multimedia closing argument, which displayed photos of a smiling Moxley that morphed into gruesome crime scene photos.
"The State's use of its audio-visual display during its closing argument was improper because it vastly distorted the meaning and import of the images presented and appealed to the passions, prejudices and emotions of the jury," the attorneys wrote.
Skakel's attorneys argued that the judge should not have admitted testimony by a former classmate of Skakel's from the Maine-based Elan School, a substance abuse treatment center. Gregory Coleman, who died of a heroin overdose before the trial but testified at an earlier hearing, was the sole witness to say that Skakel confessed to the crime.
"Mr. Skakel was deprived of his right to confront this witness in the only forum that mattered -- at trial," the attorneys wrote.
They also argued that the trial court should not have admitted testimony from former Elan classmates indicating that Skakel may have confessed because other testimony indicated that the Elan environment was one in which confessions were physically beaten out of students, who were physically and emotionally tortured.
The odds of successful appeals in criminal cases are normally low, said Steven Duke, a law professor at Yale University.
"But I think they're much higher in this case than is typical in the criminal appeal because the prosecutor's case is weak," Duke said. "Those kind of arguments receive a much more receptive audience with appellate courts when evidence of guilt is unclear or doubtful."
Skakel is incarcerated at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, according to the state Department of Correction's Web site.
The attorneys' 77-page brief is separate from a petition for a new trial that Skakel's lawyers have said they will file next month, based on allegations by Gitano Bryant, a former classmate of Skakel's, who has recently implicated two old friends in Moxley's murder.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.