Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Passionate Plea for His Cousin's Innocence

A decade after his murder sentence, Michael Skakel is up for parole. His cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. believes he was wrongly convicted -- not only by the jury but by a power-hungry media.

skakel-top.jpg

Left to right: Michael Skakel just after his 2002 murder sentence; Martha Moxley shortly before her 1975 murder; Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 2008 (Reuters)

On Halloween of 1975, a 15-year-old girl named Martha Moxley was found dead outside her family's home in Greenwich, Connecticut. The murder weapon was a golf club, used to bludgeon the girl and then stab her in the neck. The murderer was harder to locate. It took the justice system 27 years to convict Michael Skakel, a neighbor who was Martha's age at the time of her death. Skakel belonged to a large family of avid golfers. He was also the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy.

Tomorrow, Skakel will appear before a parole board for the first time since his conviction. Moxley's family remains convinced that Skakel is guilty. Her brother, John, argued in a recent letter to the parole board that Skakel has leveraged his privileged background, persuading himself and others "that the rules of our general society did not then and do not now apply to him."

But Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. argues just the opposite: that Skakel's celebrity status led to his conviction in the first place. He blames the media -- in particular, the Vanity Fair reporter Dominick Dunne -- for skewing the evidence and declaring Skakel guilty long before he was ever brought to trial. In his 2003 Atlantic article, "A Miscarriage of Justice," Kennedy recounts the details of Moxley's murder, Skakel's trial, and what he sees as Dunne's misguided campaign for personal glory. 

Dunne has built his career on linking notorious murders to powerful people, including John and Patsy Ramsey, Claus von Bulow, and O.J. Simpson. That formula has given Dunne his own measure of celebrity and wealth. His efforts to connect a Kennedy relative to the Moxley murder have been both a decade-long fixation and a profitable venture. "The Kennedys," he has said, "are the greatest soap opera in American history." Michael Skakel would get caught in the cross hairs where Dunne's ambitions intersected with his obsessions.

Read the whole story.

Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

Just In