Prosecutors in spot over 1975 Martha Moxley murder
HARTFORD, Conn. — Now that a court has struck down the murder conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, the next step in the decades-long legal saga is up to Connecticut prosecutors, who must decide whether to seek a new trial in the 1975 slaying.
As they mull prospects for another guilty verdict, they will have to consider a number of new twists that have emerged since Skakel was convicted in 2002 of killing Martha Moxley with a golf club when they were teenage neighbors in the exclusive Belle Haven shoreline section of Greenwich.
They may also consider the reluctance of Martha’s mother, Dorthy Moxley, who told The Associated Press on Monday she was satisfied that Skakel had been punished enough.
Skakel, 57, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and spent 11 years behind bars.
He was freed on $1.2 million bail in 2013, when a lower court judge overturned his conviction.
Connecticut’s Supreme Court reinstated Skakel’s conviction in 2016, but then reversed itself last Friday. It ruled the failure of Skakel’s trial lawyer, Mickey Sherman, to present a crucial alibi witness deprived him of a fair trial.
State prosecutors have not commented on the ruling.
A look at some of the issues prosecutors likely are considering:
‘This is enough’
Dorthy Moxley turns 86 next month. She was a fixture at the 2002 trial and the 16 years of appellate proceedings, insisting Skakel was guilty and pledging to see the case through to the end.
She said Monday that she would do anything state prosecutors ask of her but would prefer that they just drop the case now.
“I just think that this is enough. I’m willing to just let it go,” she said. “I just feel as though the time has come. I feel satisfied that he has been punished. He went to jail for 11 years. He’s not going to have a happy life after this. People aren’t going to welcome him with open arms.”
Even so, Moxley said she doesn’t believe the alibi witness cited in the Supreme Court ruling, alleging he and other witnesses including Skakel’s relatives are part of an effort to cover up the crime.
The alibi witness cited in the Supreme Court ruling, Denis Ossorio, said he was with Michael Skakel and others watching the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” television show at a home several miles from the murder scene at the time some experts have said Martha Moxley was killed.
If another trial were held, Ossario’s testimony would raise reasonable doubt about whether Skakel killed Martha, according to William Dunlap, a law professor at Quinnipiac University.
“This is a terrible case for them,” Dunlap said, referring to prosecutors. “They are going to have much more difficulty putting a case together this time than they did the first time.”
Sherman did present other alibi witnesses at the trial — Skakel’s brothers and cousins. But prosecutors attacked their credibility, saying they had a strong motive to lie and there were no “independent” alibi witnesses.
At trial, prosecutors suggested Skakel was upset because his attractive blonde neighbor seemed more interested in his older brother, Thomas, an early suspect in the slaying.
Thomas was the last person seen with Martha and told private investigators that he and Martha engaged in sexual activity that night.
A key prosecution witness was Gregory Coleman, who testified before a grand jury and at a probable cause hearing that Skakel confessed to the killing while they were students at the Elan School, a private school for troubled youths in Poland, Maine.
Coleman died of a drug overdose before the trial, but his previous testimony was admitted at trial, helping to convict Skakel.
It was later disclosed, however, that Coleman testified under the influence of heroin before the grand jury.
Coleman said the first thing Skakel ever said to him was, “I am going to get away with murder because I am a Kennedy.” He also said Skakel told him he beat a girl’s head with a golf club.
There was a $100,000 reward at the time for information leading to a conviction.
In its ruling Friday, the Supreme Court majority said Coleman’s testimony could have been “merely the product of his obvious interest, fueled by his heroin addiction, in the reward."