Michael Skakel, a Kennedy cousin who went to jail for the 1975 murder of teenager Martha Moxley, will get a second chance in court after a judge threw out his 2002 conviction and ordered a new trial. Skakel unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and 20-years-to-life sentence twice before, but his latest appeal managed to stick. In a 136-page, often scathing decision, Judge Thomas Bishop agreed that Skakel's trial lawyer did not meet the constitutional standards of a right to "adequate" legal representation.
This case spans decades and has a number of twists and turns in it. So here's a quick catch-up: In 1975, Skakel was 15 years old when Greenwich, Connecticut teenager Martha Moxley was killed, apparently beaten with a golf club that matched a set owned by his deceased mother. Skakel and Moxley were neighbors. Decades later, in 2000, Skakel was arrested after a grand jury investigation into the case. Originally, he was charged as a juvenile because of his age during the crime, but a judge later decided in 2002 that he should be tried as an adult.Then, there was the trial, which included a number of bizarre and unsavory details about Skakel himself, who was represented by Mickey Sherman. We'll leave it to Bishop's decision to describe Sherman:
" …defense counsel was in a myriad of ways ineffective...the defense of a serious felony prosecution requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense capably executed. Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense."
According to Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (who helped to shape his cousin's appeal efforts), Sherman believed that the high-profile Skakel trial was his big chance to become a TV celebrity lawyer. Bishop noted that Sherman's argument in defense of his client was basically "an unfocused running commentary on the state’s evidence," instead of an actual defense. Sherman also went to jail for several months because he failed to pay over $400,000 in taxes in 2001 and 2002. According to Bishop's decision, Sherman sent Skakel a bill of over $1 million for his unsuccessful defense efforts.
Martha Moxley's family has already reacted to Bishop's decision to grant Skakel a new trial: mother Dorothy Moxley told CNN that “I do believe Michael Skakel killed my daughter.”
This was Skakel's third big attempt to appeal his case over the years. The first pertained to the five-year statute of limitations in place in Connecticut at the time of the crime, but that appeal was denied, and the Supreme Court refused to hear his case. The second argued that new evidence in the case implicated two other men in the murder.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.