Murder of Martha Moxley
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August 16, 1960|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Died||October 30, 1975
Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
|Cause of death||Homicide by blunt trauma|
|Body discovered||October 31, 1975|
|Known for||Murder victim|
Martha Moxley (August 16, 1960 – October 30, 1975) of Greenwich, Connecticut, was a 15-year-old American high school student who was murdered in 1975. She was last seen alive spending time at the home of the Skakel family, across the street from her home in Belle Haven. Michael Skakel, also 15 at the time, was convicted in 2002 of murdering Moxley 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. On December 30, 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4–3 to reinstate Skakel's conviction. The Connecticut Supreme Court vacated the conviction on May 4, 2018 and ordered a new trial.
On the evening of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley left with friends to attend "Mischief Night", where the neighborhood kids pull pranks like ringing bells and toilet papering houses. 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.
The next day, Moxley's body was found underneath a tree in her family's backyard. Her pants 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.
Investigation and trial
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.
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 students from Élan School, a treatment center for troubled youths, 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."
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. 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.
In 1993, author Dominick Dunne, father of murdered actress Dominique Dunne, published A Season in Purgatory, a fictional story closely resembling the Moxley case. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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, 2001, a judge ruled that Skakel would be tried as an adult.
Skakel's trial began on May 7, 2002, in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was represented by attorney Michael Sherman. 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. 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.
On June 7, 2002, Michael Skakel was found guilty of murdering Martha Moxley, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He was assigned to the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut.
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.
|Born||Michael Christopher Skakel
September 19, 1960
Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
|Criminal charge||Murder (vacated)|
|Spouse(s)||Margot Sheridan (m. 1991; div. 2001)|
|Conviction(s)||20 years to life (conviction vacated, prosecutors not seeking re-trial, case dismissed)|
|Date||October 30, 1975|
|Weapons||Six-iron golf club|
|January 19, 2000|
Michael Christopher Skakel (born September 19, 1960) 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 Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Skakel's grandfather George was the founder of Great Lakes Carbon Corporation, a coal company which was one of the largest and wealthiest privately held corporations in the United States.
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. He was a poor student and reportedly flunked out of a dozen schools. He also struggled for years with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until he was 26. 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.
In 1978, Skakel was arrested for drunk driving in New York. 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 twenties. 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. 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. Their divorce was finalized in 2001.
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.
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.
In 2007, Skakel's new attorneys, Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos, filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus and a motion for a new trial in the Connecticut trial court which originally heard his case, based on a theory involving 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. 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.
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.
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. 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. On April 12, 2010, the panel ruled 4–1 against Skakel's appeal.
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. Sherman testified in defense of his actions, while continuing to maintain his belief in Skakel's innocence in the Moxley case.
Skakel had been imprisoned at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut. On January 24, 2012, Skakel and his attorneys argued for a sentence reduction, claiming that he should have been tried in juvenile court. On March 5, 2012, Skakel lost his bid for a sentence reduction.
Skakel's first parole hearing was held on October 24, 2012. 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 was scheduled for October 2017.
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 stated they would appeal the decision. John Moxley, the victim's brother, said the ruling took him and his family by surprise and they hoped the state would win an appeal.
In his ruling, Judge Thomas Bishop wrote that defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense, stating "Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense...As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."
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, cannot have contact with Moxley's family, must periodically check in over the phone if need be, and is not allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission, although he has since relocated to Westchester County, New York.
In July 2016, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., released a book entitled Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn't Commit.
In December 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated Skakel's murder conviction with a 4–3 majority decision, writing that he had been convicted due to "overwhelming" evidence presented by prosecutors and furthermore that his legal representation had been adequate.
In January 2018, prosecutors asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to revoke Skakel's bail and return him to prison to resume serving his sentence.
On May 4, 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court vacated Skakel's conviction and ordered a new trial. The Court ruled that Sherman had "rendered ineffective assistance" when he failed to contact an alibi witness whose name he was provided by Skakel and that as a result, Skakel was deprived of a fair trial. On May 8, 2018, Fairfield County prosecutors announced that they would not retry the case. The conviction will be dismissed.
In popular culture
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