Murder of Martha Moxley

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On October 31, 1975, the partially nude and bludgeoned body of 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found in her family's house's backyard. She disappeared the night before after attending a Halloween party at the Skakel home, one block away from her home in Greenwich, Connecticut. [1]

Michael Christopher Skakel, also 15 at the time, was convicted of murdering Moxley in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years to life. In 2013, he was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge and released on $1.2 million bail; the decision is now being appealed by the prosecution. The case attracted worldwide publicity owing to a "Kennedy connection"[2] as Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Moxley murder[edit]

Martha Moxley

On the evening of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley left with friends to attend a Halloween party at the Skakel home. According to friends, Moxley began flirting with and eventually kissed Thomas Skakel, Michael's brother. Moxley was last seen "falling together behind the fence" with Thomas Skakel near the pool in the Skakel backyard at around 9:30 p.m.[citation needed]

The next day, Moxley's body was found underneath a tree in her family's backyard. Her trousers and underwear were pulled down, but she had not been sexually assaulted. Pieces of a broken six-iron golf club were found near the body. An autopsy indicated she had been both bludgeoned and stabbed with the club, which was traced back to the Skakel home.[1]

Investigation and Trial[edit]

Initial investigation[edit]

Thomas Skakel was the last person known to have been seen with Moxley the night of the murder and had a weak alibi. He became the prime suspect, but his father forbade access to his school and mental health records. Kenneth Littleton, who had started working as a live-in tutor for the Skakel family only hours before the murder, also became a prime suspect. However, no one was charged, and the case languished for decades. In the meantime, several books were published about the murder, including Timothy Dumas' A Wealth of Evil; the novel A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne, a fictional account of the case; and Murder in Greenwich, by Mark Fuhrman.[3] [4]

Over the years, both Thomas and Michael Skakel significantly changed their alibis for the night of Moxley's murder. Michael Skakel claimed that he had been window-peeping and masturbating in a tree beside the Moxley property from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Two former Elan students testified they heard Michael Skakel confess to killing Moxley with a golf club. Gregory Coleman testified that Skakel was given special privileges, saying Skakel bragged, "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."[5][6]

Investigation re-opened[edit]

When William Kennedy Smith was tried (and acquitted) for rape in 1991, a rumor surfaced that he had been present at the Skakel house on the night of the Moxley murder, with the clear insinuation that he might have been involved. Although this proved to be unfounded, it resulted in a new investigation of the then cold case.[7] The Sutton Associates, a private detective agency hired by Rushton Skakel in 1991, conducted its own investigation of the killing. The Sutton Report, later leaked to the media, revealed that both Thomas and Michael Skakel altered their stories about their activities the night Martha was killed.[8]

In 1993 author Dominick Dunne, father of murdered actress Dominique Dunne, published A Season in Purgatory, a fictional story closely resembling the Moxley case.[9] Mark Fuhrman's 1998 book Murder in Greenwich named Michael Skakel as the murderer and pointed out numerous mistakes the police had made in investigating the case.[10][11] Even in the years before the Dunne and Fuhrman books, Greenwich Police detectives Steve Carroll and Frank Garr, as well as police reporter Leonard Levitt, had become convinced that Michael Skakel was the killer.[12]

Trial[edit]

In June 1998, a rarely invoked one-man grand jury was convened to review the evidence of the case. After an 18-month investigation, it was decided there was enough evidence to charge Michael Skakel with murder.[13] On January 9, 2000, an arrest warrant was issued for an unnamed juvenile for Moxley's murder. Skakel surrendered to authorities later that day. He was released shortly thereafter on $500,000 bail.[14] On March 14, Skakel was arraigned for murder in a juvenile court as he was 15-years old at the time of Moxley's murder. On January 31, a judge ruled that Skakel would be tried as an adult.[15]

Skakel's trial began on May 7, 2002 in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was represented by attorney Michael Sherman.[15] Skakel's alibi was that at the time of the murder, he was at his cousin's house. During the trial, the jury heard part of a taped book proposal, which included Michael Skakel speaking about masturbating in a tree on the night of the murder—possibly the same tree under which Moxley's body was found the next morning.[16] In the book proposal, Skakel did not admit he committed the murder. Prosecutors took words from the book proposal and overlaid them on graphic images of Moxley's dead body in a computerized, multimedia presentation shown to jurors during closing arguments. In the audiotape, Skakel said that he was afraid he might have been seen the previous night "jerking off", and he panicked. Though the jury heard the whole tape, during the closing arguments, the prosecutor did not play the portion of the audiotape where Skakel said "jerking off", giving the impression that he was confessing to the murder.[17]

Skakel was found guilty for murdering Martha Moxley on June 7, 2002, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.[18] He was assigned to the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut.[14]

The prosecutors' use of the multimedia presentation during closing arguments was included in Skakel's initial appeal. In their brief responding to that appeal, the prosecution argued:

The state engaged in appropriate and effective advocacy by using trial exhibits to highlight certain evidence and inferences..... Just as the state should not be deprived of its most valuable evidence unless there is a compelling reason to do so, the state should not be prohibited from making its best arguments. The state's use of audio and photographic exhibits during argument was a matter of effective advocacy. The state did not, as defendant claims, distort the evidence in any respect. By placing certain exhibits next to defendant's words, or by displaying two related exhibits simultaneously, the state was making explicit the inferences it was asking the jury to draw. This is the job of an advocate.[19]

Michael Skakel[edit]

Michael Skakel
Born Michael Christopher Skakel
(1960-09-19) September 19, 1960 (age 54)
Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
Criminal charge
Murder
Criminal status Freed on bail
Spouse(s) Margot Sheridan (m. 1991; div. 2001)
Children 1
Conviction(s) 20 years to life
Killings
Victims 1
Date October 30, 1975
Country United States
State(s) Connecticut
Location(s) Greenwich, Connecticut
Weapon(s) Six-iron golf club
Date apprehended
January 19, 2000
Imprisoned at Garner Correctional Institution

Michael Christopher Skakel was born September 19, 1960. He is the middle of seven children born to Rushton Walter Skakel (1923–2003) and Anne Reynolds (1932–1973). Rushton's sister Ethel is the widow of politician Robert F. Kennedy.[20] Skakel's grandfather George was the founder of Great Lakes Carbon Corporation, a coal company which was of the largest and richest privately held corporations in the United States.[21][22]

The family lived in the affluent neighborhood of Belle Haven in Greenwich, Connecticut. After his mother's death from brain cancer in 1973, Skakel began abusing alcohol.[23] He was poor student and reportedly flunked out of a dozen schools.[24] He also struggled for years with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until he was 26.[25] His cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. later wrote that Skakel was a "small sensitive child — the runt of the litter with a harsh and occasionally violent alcoholic father who both ignored and abused him." According to neighbors and family friends, the Skakel children were given unlimited amounts of money and were largely unsupervised.[22]

In 1978, Skakel was arrested for drunk driving in New York.[24] To avoid criminal charges, Skakel's family sent him to the Élan School in Poland, Maine, where he received treatment for alcoholism. He ran away from the school twice before leaving after two years. Skakel later attended Curry College and earned a Bachelor's degree. During the 1980s, he attended several rehab facilities before finally becoming sober in his 20s.[24] He also pursued a career as a professional athlete; Skakel competed on the international speed skiing circuit and tried out for the speed skiing demonstration team that appeared at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.[7] In 1991, he married professional golfer Margot Sheridan with whom he has one child. Sheridan filed for divorce shortly after Skakel was arrested for Moxley's murder in January 2000.[22] Their divorce was finalized in 2001.[14]

Post-trial[edit]

In January 2003, attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Skakel's cousin, wrote a controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled "A Miscarriage of Justice," insisting that Skakel's indictment "was triggered by an inflamed media, and that an innocent man is now in prison". Kennedy's article presents the argument that there is more evidence suggesting that Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel family's live-in tutor, killed Moxley. He also calls Dominick Dunne the "driving force" behind Skakel's prosecution.[26]

Appeals[edit]

Skakel continued to fight his conviction. In November 2003, Skakel appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred because the case should have been heard in Juvenile Court rather than Superior Court, that the statute of limitations had expired on the charges against him, and that there was prosecutorial misconduct. On January 12, 2006, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected Skakel's claims and affirmed his conviction. Subsequently, Skakel retained attorney and former United States Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who on July 12, 2006, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of Skakel before the Supreme Court of the United States. On November 13, 2006, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[27]

Since then, Skakel has begun his first round of post conviction proceedings, beginning with a petition for writ of habeas corpus and motion for new trial in the Connecticut trial court which originally heard his case. Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has brought forth Gitano "Tony" Bryant, cousin of Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant and a former classmate of Skakel at the private Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut. In a videotaped interview with Skakel private investigator Vito Colucci in August 2003, Bryant said one of his companions on the night of Moxley's murder had wanted to rape her. Bryant said he did not come forward before because his mother had warned him, and he believed her, that as a black man he would be tagged for the unsolved murder. A two-week hearing in April 2007 allowed the presentation of this hearsay evidence, among other matters.[28] In September 2007, Skakel's attorneys filed a petition, based in part on Bryant's claims, asking for a new trial; prosecutors formally responded that Bryant may have made up the story to sell a play about the case.[29]

The new Skakel defense team also hired a full-time investigative team to review existing and new information—particularly a book written about Élan School—in preparation for the hearing. They argued that no Élan School residents with Skakel, other than Gregory Coleman, ever spoke about Skakel's confession to anyone, including the author of the book.[citation needed]

On October 25, 2007, a Superior Court judge denied the request for a new trial, saying Bryant's testimony was not credible and there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the original trial.[30] Skakel's lawyer appealed this decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court. On March 26, 2009, a five-judge panel of the state Supreme Court heard arguments on this appeal.[31] On April 12, 2010, the panel ruled 4-1 against Skakel's appeal.[32]

Skakel then appealed based on a charge of incompetence against Mickey Sherman, his lead attorney at the trial. In an April 2013 hearing in Vernon, Connecticut, Skakel testified that Sherman, rather than focusing on Skakel's defense, instead basked in celebrity. Skakel also claimed that Sherman was more interested in collecting fees to settle Sherman's own financial problems than in defending Skakel.[33] Sherman testified in defense of his actions, while continuing to maintain his belief in Skakel's innocence in the Moxley case.[34]

Parole hearings[edit]

Skakel had been imprisoned at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut.[35][36] On January 24, 2012, Skakel and his attorneys argued for a sentence reduction, claiming that he should have been tried in juvenile court.[37] On March 5, 2012, Skakel lost his bid for a sentence reduction.[38]

Skakel's first parole hearing was held on October 24, 2012.[39] Skakel was denied parole. He continued to deny the killing. The sentence is 20 years to life and the ten-year mark is only half of the minimum sentence. Moxley's mother said he should serve at least 20 years. Skakel's next parole hearing is scheduled for October 2017.[40]

New trial[edit]

On October 23, 2013, Skakel was granted a new trial by a Connecticut judge, Judge Thomas A. Bishop, who ruled that his attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002. Prosecutors have said they will appeal the decision. John Moxley, the victim's brother, said the ruling took him and his family by surprise and they hope the state wins an appeal.[41]

In his ruling, the judge wrote that defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense."Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense," Judge Thomas Bishop wrote. "As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."[42]

On November 21, 2013, Skakel was released on bond for $1.2 million along with other conditions: He must be monitored with a GPS device, he cannot have contact with Moxley's family, must periodically check in over phone if need be, and is not allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission.[43]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Crittle, Simon (May 9, 2002). "The Skakel Trial: Gruesome Details from Day Two". Time Magazine. 
  2. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "The Martha Moxley Murder — Whirlpool of Doubts — Crime Library on truTV.com". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  3. ^ Dumas, Timothy (1999). A wealth of evil: the true story of the murder of Martha Moxley in America's richest community.. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 9780446607322. 
  4. ^ Dunne, Dominick (October 2000). "Trail Of Guilt". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Probable Cause hearing transcript". Marthamoxley.com. p. 83. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  6. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "The Martha Moxley Murder — The Trial: Superior Court Weighs Trial Agenda — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  7. ^ a b Rogers, Patrick; Longley, Jennifer (February 7, 2000). "The Boy Next Door". People (Time Inc.) 53 (5). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  8. ^ "Skakel Family Friend Softens Her Story". Courant.com. May 16, 2002. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  9. ^ Smith, Chris. "Dominick Dunne vs. Robert Kennedy". nymag.com. p. 2. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Furhman accuses Kennedy nephew". The Hour. May 8, 1998. p. A4. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  11. ^ Catlin, Roger (November 14, 2002). "Who Solved The Moxley Case? Fuhrman Takes Credit, But Top Prosecutor Says That's Baloney". courant.com. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ Christoffersen, John (October 11, 2004). "Book: Skakel bloody on night of slaying". Bangor Daily News. p. B5. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Michael Skakel Arraigned". abcnews.go.com. February 21, 2001. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c "Michael Skakel Fast Facts". cnn.com. November 22, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Michael Skakel Case Timeline". greenwichtime.com. June 14, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  16. ^ Fuhrmann, Mark (1998). Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?. ; cf. Kennedy, Robert F., Jr. (January–February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic. 
  17. ^ "The Ghosts of Greenwich", 48 Hours, August 30, 2008, 34 minutes into story.
  18. ^ Christoffersen, John (April 26, 2013). "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel slams lawyer during murder conviction appeal - U.S. News". Usnews.nbcnews.com. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  19. ^ "CSAO: State of Connecticut v. Michael Skakel". Ct.gov. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  20. ^ Lang, Joel (January 20, 2000). "Michael Skakel Has A Troubled Past". courant.com. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  21. ^ Levitt, Leonard (2004). Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective's Twenty-Year Search for Justice. HarperCollins. pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-060-54430-9. 
  22. ^ a b c Campbell, Susan (June 9, 2002). "The House of Skakel". courant.com. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Courttv.Com - Trials". Web.archive.org. December 27, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  24. ^ a b c "Moxley Case: Who is Michael Skakel?". cnn.com. December 31, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  25. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. "2 Kennedys Sent Pleas For Skakel" New York Times. August 30, 2002.
  26. ^ Kennedy, Robert F. Jr (January–February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic Monthly. 
  27. ^ "Skakel Murder Conviction Left Intact by U.S. Supreme Court," Bloomberg, November 13, 2006
  28. ^ "Skakel Heads Back To Court," Hartford Courant, April 17, 2007
  29. ^ Christoffersen, John (September 14, 2007). "Attorneys spar over Skakel's trial bid". USA Today. 
  30. ^ Christoffersen, John (October 25, 2007). "Attorney: Judge denies Skakel's bid for a new trial". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. 
  31. ^ Christoffersen, John (March 26, 2009). "Skakel Case Goes Before State Supreme Court". WTIC. Associated Press. 
  32. ^ "Skakel Loses Appeal for a New Trial". The New York Times. April 12, 2010. 
  33. ^ Christoffersen, John (April 25, 2013). "Skakel slams trial attorney in Conn. murder appeal". Stamford Advocate. Associated Press. Retrieved April 28, 2013. 
  34. ^ Vigdor, Neil (April 26, 2013). "Sherman stands by Skakel to the end". Stamford Advocate. Retrieved April 28, 2013. 
  35. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information: Michael Skakel". State of Connecticut. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Skakel gets 20 years to life". CNN. August 30, 2002.
  37. ^ "Skakel seeks sentence reduction for Conn. murder". Associated Press. January 24, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Skakel loses sentence reduction bid". Fox News. March 5, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2012. 
  39. ^ Christoffersen, John. "Kennedy Cousin Skakel Up For Parole in Conn.". Associated Press. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  40. ^ Griffin, Alaine (October 24, 2012). "Skakel, Denied Parole, Will Continue Quest For Freedom". courant.com. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  41. ^ "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel granted retrial for 1975 murder of Martha Moxley". New York: NY Daily News. October 30, 1975. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  42. ^ "Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel Granted New Trial For 1975 Greenwich Murder". newyork.cbslocal.com. October 23, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 
  43. ^ Remizowski, Leigh; Sanchez, Ray (November 21, 2013). "Michael Skakel a free man, bail set at $1.2 million". cnn.com. Retrieved August 4, 2014. 

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