Murder of Martha Moxley

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Martha Moxley
Born(1960-08-16)August 16, 1960
DiedOctober 30, 1975(1975-10-30) (aged 15)
Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.
Cause of deathHomicide by blunt trauma
Body discoveredOctober 31, 1975
CitizenshipUnited States
Known forMurder victim

Martha Elizabeth Moxley (August 16, 1960 – October 30, 1975) was a 15-year-old American high school student from Greenwich, Connecticut 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.[1] Michael Skakel, also 15 at the time, was convicted in 2002 of murdering Moxley and was 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.[2][3]

The case attracted worldwide publicity, as Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Moxley murder[edit]

On the evening of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley left with friends to participate in "Mischief Night", in which neighborhood youths would ring bells and pull pranks such as toilet-papering houses.[4] 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.[5]

The next day, Moxley's body was found beneath 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 that 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 seen with Moxley on the night of the murder, and he 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' nonfiction A Wealth of Evil (1999),[6] Dominick Dunne's fictional account of the case, A Season in Purgatory (2000)[7] and Mark Fuhrman's nonfiction Murder in Greenwich.

Over the years, both Thomas and Michael Skakel significantly changed their alibis for the night of Moxley's murder. Michael 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 confess to killing Moxley with a golf club. Gregory Coleman testified that Michael was given special privileges, saying Michael bragged, "I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy."[8][9]

Investigation reopened[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.[10] 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.[11]

In 1993, author Dominick Dunne, father of murdered actress Dominique Dunne, published A Season in Purgatory, a fictional story closely resembling the Moxley case.[12] 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.[13][14] 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.[15]


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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

Skakel's trial began on May 7, 2002, in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was represented by attorney Michael Sherman.[18] 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.[19] In the book proposal, Skakel did not admit to committing 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 in which Skakel had said "jerking off", giving the impression that he was confessing to the murder.[20]

On June 7, 2002, Skakel was found guilty of murdering Moxley, and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.[21] He was assigned to the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, Connecticut.[17]

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.[22]

Michael Skakel[edit]

Michael Skakel
Michael Christopher Skakel

(1960-09-19) September 19, 1960 (age 59)
Criminal statusReleased
Margot Sheridan
(m. 1991; div. 2001)
Conviction(s)20 years to life (conviction vacated, prosecutors not seeking re-trial, case dismissed)
Criminal chargeMurder (vacated)
DateOctober 30, 1975
CountryUnited States
Location(s)Greenwich, Connecticut
WeaponsSix-iron golf club
Date apprehended
January 19, 2000
Imprisoned atReleased

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.[23] Skakel's grandfather George was the founder of Great Lakes Carbon Corporation, a coal company that was one of the largest and wealthiest privately held corporations in the United States.[24][25]

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.[26] He was a poor student and reportedly flunked out of a dozen schools.[27] He also struggled for years with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until he was 26.[28] 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.[25]

In 1978, Skakel was arrested for drunk driving in New York.[27] 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.[27] 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.[10] 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.[25] Their divorce was finalized in 2001.[17]


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 argued that there is more evidence suggesting that Kenneth Littleton, the Skakel family's live-in tutor, killed Moxley. He also called Dominick Dunne the "driving force" behind Skakel's prosecution.[29]


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 in Superior Court, that the statute of limitations had expired on the charges against him and that there was prosecutorial misconduct. On January 12, 2006, 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 filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of Skakel before the Supreme Court of the United States on July 12, 2006. On November 13, 2006, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[30]

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 that had 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. In a videotaped interview with Skakel's private investigator Vito Colucci in August 2003, Bryant said that on the night of Moxley's murder, one of his companions had wanted to rape her. Bryant said that he did not previously come forward because his mother had warned him 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.[31] 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.[32]

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 residents who knew Skakel, other than Gregory Coleman, had ever spoken about Skakel's confession to anyone, including to 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 that there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the original trial.[33] Skakel's lawyer appealed this decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court. On March 26, 2009, a five-judge panel of the court heard arguments on this appeal.[34] On April 12, 2010, the panel ruled 4–1 against Skakel's appeal.[35]

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 had 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.[36] Sherman testified in defense of his actions, while continuing to maintain his belief in Skakel's innocence in the Moxley case.[37]

Parole hearings[edit]

Skakel had been imprisoned at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut.[38][39] On January 24, 2012, Skakel and his attorneys argued for a sentence reduction, claiming that he should have been tried in juvenile court.[40] On March 5, 2012, Skakel lost his bid for a sentence reduction.[41]

Skakel's first parole hearing was held on October 24, 2012.[42] Skakel was denied parole. He continued to deny the killing. Skakel's next parole hearing was scheduled for October 2017.[43]

2013 trial[edit]

On October 23, 2013, Skakel was granted a new trial by Connecticut judge Thomas A. Bishop, who ruled that Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent Skakel when he was convicted in 2002. Prosecutors stated they would appeal the decision. John Moxley, the victim's brother, said that the ruling took his family by surprise and that the family hoped the state would win on appeal.[44]

In his ruling, 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."[45]

On November 21, 2013, Skakel was released on a $1.2 million bond along with other conditions: he was to be monitored with a GPS device, could have no contact with Moxley's family, must periodically check in over the phone and would not be allowed to leave the state of Connecticut unless granted permission, although he has since relocated to Westchester County, New York.[46]


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.[47]

In December 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated Skakel's murder conviction with a 4–3 majority decision, writing that his conviction was the result of "overwhelming" evidence presented by prosecutors and that his legal representation had been adequate.[48]


In January 2018, prosecutors asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to revoke Skakel's bail and to return him to prison to resume serving his sentence.[49]

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 had been provided by Skakel and that as a result, Skakel was deprived of a fair trial. State prosecutors in Stamford still have the power to call for a new trial against Skakel. No determination has been made by the State’s Attorney’s office.[50][2][3]

In popular culture[edit]

In September 2017, the rights to Kennedy's book were optioned by FX Productions to develop a multi-part television series.[51][52]

The American Court TV (now TruTV) television series Mugshots featured the case in an episode entitled Michael Skakel - A Killing in Greenwich.[53][54]

The case was featured on Unsolved Mysteries on February 16, 1996.

In 2014, Connecticut-born rapper Chad Bromley released a song entitled Martha Moxley (Rest in Peace) featuring Chris Webby, Kappa Gamma, Annoyd and Hayze. The song repeatedly, but subtly, references the event, referring to Moxley and Skakel by name. The song samples Wham!'s Careless Whisper.[55][56]

In June 2019, Oxygen premiered a three-part documentary entitled Murder and Justice: The Case of Martha Moxley, hosted by legal analyst and former prosecutor Laura Coates.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Crittle, Simon (May 9, 2002). "The Skakel Trial: Gruesome Details from Day Two". Time.
  2. ^ a b Ellis, Ralph; Casarez, Jean. "Court vacates Michael Skakel's murder conviction and orders a new trial". CNN. Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Rosenberg, Eli (May 5, 2018). "Murder conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel overturned — again". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Archived from the original on May 5, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  4. ^ Framed by Robert Kennedy, Jr.
  5. ^ Cameron, David R. (April 22, 2013). "Opinion: Many Still Ask: Who Killed Martha Moxley?". Hartford Courant. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Dunne, Dominick (October 2000). "Trail Of Guilt". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
  8. ^ "Probable Cause hearing transcript" (PDF). p. 83. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 12, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  9. ^ Geringer, Joseph. "The Martha Moxley Murder — The Trial: Superior Court Weighs Trial Agenda — Crime Library on". Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Rogers, Patrick; Longley, Jennifer (February 7, 2000). "The Boy Next Door". People. Time Inc. 53 (5). ISSN 0093-7673.
  11. ^ "Skakel Family Friend Softens Her Story". May 16, 2002. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  12. ^ Smith, Chris. "Dominick Dunne vs. Robert Kennedy". p. 2. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  13. ^ "Furhman accuses Kennedy nephew". Associated Press. The Hour. May 8, 1998. p. A4. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  14. ^ Catlin, Roger (November 14, 2002). "Who Solved The Moxley Case? Fuhrman Takes Credit, But Top Prosecutor Says That's Baloney". Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  15. ^ Christoffersen, John (October 11, 2004). "Book: Skakel bloody on night of slaying". Bangor Daily News. p. B5. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  16. ^ Moore, Claire (February 21, 2001). "Michael Skakel Arraigned". ABC News Internet Ventures. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  17. ^ a b c "Michael Skakel Fast Facts". CNN. November 22, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  18. ^ a b "Michael Skakel Case Timeline". Greenwich Time. June 14, 2012.
  19. ^ Fuhrmann, Mark (1998). Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?.; cf. Kennedy, Robert F., Jr. (January–February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic.
  20. ^ "The Ghosts of Greenwich". 48 Hours. CBS Interactive Inc. August 20, 2008. 34 minutes in. CBS News. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  21. ^ Christoffersen, John (April 26, 2013). "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel slams lawyer during murder conviction appeal - U.S. News". Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  22. ^ "CSAO: State of Connecticut v. Michael Skakel". Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  23. ^ Lang, Joel (January 20, 2000). "Michael Skakel Has A Troubled Past". Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ a b c Campbell, Susan (June 9, 2002). "The House of Skakel". Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  26. ^ "Courttv.Com - Trials". December 27, 2007. Archived from the original on December 27, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  27. ^ a b c "Moxley Case: Who is Michael Skakel?". December 31, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  28. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. "2 Kennedys Sent Pleas For Skakel" Archived February 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine New York Times. August 30, 2002.
  29. ^ Kennedy, Robert F. Jr (January–February 2003). "A Miscarriage of Justice". The Atlantic Monthly.
  30. ^ "Skakel Murder Conviction Left Intact by U.S. Supreme Court," Bloomberg, November 13, 2006
  31. ^ Tuohy, Lynne (April 17, 2007). "Skakel Heads Back To Court". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on April 27, 2013. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
  32. ^ Christoffersen, John (September 14, 2007). "Attorneys spar over Skakel's trial bid". USA Today.
  33. ^ Christoffersen, John (October 25, 2007). "Attorney: Judge denies Skakel's bid for a new trial". The Boston Globe. Associated Press.
  34. ^ Christoffersen, John (March 26, 2009). "Skakel Case Goes Before State Supreme Court". WTIC. Associated Press.
  35. ^ "Skakel Loses Appeal for a New Trial". The New York Times. April 12, 2010.
  36. ^ Christoffersen, John (April 25, 2013). "Skakel slams trial attorney in Conn. murder appeal". Stamford Advocate. Associated Press. Retrieved April 28, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  37. ^ Vigdor, Neil (April 26, 2013). "Sherman stands by Skakel to the end". Stamford Advocate. Hearst Media Services Connecticut, LLC. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  38. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information: Michael Skakel". State of Connecticut. Archived from the original on October 3, 2013. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  39. ^ CNN Staff (August 30, 2002). "Skakel gets 20 years to life - August 30, 2002". Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
  40. ^ "Skakel seeks sentence reduction for Conn. murder". Yahoo! Inc. Associated Press. January 24, 2012.
  41. ^ "Skakel loses sentence reduction bid". FOX News Network, LLC. Associated Press. March 5, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  42. ^ Christoffersen, John. "Kennedy Cousin Skakel Up For Parole in Conn". Associated Press. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  43. ^ Griffin, Alaine (October 24, 2012). "Skakel, Denied Parole, Will Continue Quest For Freedom". Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  44. ^ Lestch, Corinne; Stebner, Beth (October 24, 2013). "Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel granted retrial for 1975 murder of Martha Moxley". Daily News. New York.
  45. ^ "Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel Granted New Trial For 1975 Greenwich Murder". CBS New York. CBS Radio Inc. Associated Press. October 23, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  46. ^ Remizowski, Leigh; Sanchez, Ray (November 21, 2013). "Michael Skakel a free man, bail set at $1.2 million". CNN. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  47. ^ Melia, Michael (July 12, 2016). "RFK Jr. Book Stokes Intrigue In Michael Skakel Murder Case". Hartford Courant. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  48. ^ Matthew Kauffman (December 30, 2016). "Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel's Murder Conviction Reinstated". Hartford Courant. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  49. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  50. ^ Marchant, Robert (May 31, 2018). "Prosecutor to appeal Skakel decision to U.S. Supreme Court". Greenwich Time.
  51. ^ Michael Schneider (September 20, 2017). "FX Prods. to Develop 'Framed,' Robert F. Kennedy Jr's Crusade to Clear His Cousin's Murder Conviction — Exclusive". IndieWire. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  52. ^ "FX Prods. to Develop 'Framed,' Robert F. Kennedy Jr's Crusade to Clear His Cousin's Murder Conviction — Exclusive". IMDb. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  53. ^ "MUGSHOTS: Michael Skakel – A Killing in Greenwich". FilmRise. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  54. ^ " Mugshots: Michael Skakel - A Killing in Greenwich". 2013. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  55. ^ "Martha Moxley (R.I.P.) - Lyrics". Genius Lyrics. July 26, 2019. Retrieved July 26, 2019. Around the time when Michael Skakel murdered Martha Moxley
  56. ^ "Martha Moxley (R.I.P.) - Apathy". Genius Lyrics. Retrieved July 26, 2019. The main sample is taken from the song “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, a musician known for being a cheesy 80s singer. Also sampled at the end of the song is a news report detailing how Moxley’s body was found.
  57. ^ "'The Case of Martha Moxley' Reexamines Heinous Murder 44 Years Later". TheWrap. June 15, 2019. Retrieved September 12, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]