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Kennedy cousin Skakel will not be retried in 1975 killing

Dave Collins
Associated Press

A prosecutor said Friday that Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel will not face a second trial in the killing of Martha Moxley, an announcement that came 45 years to the day after the teenager was found bludgeoned to death in her wealthy Connecticut neighborhood.

Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. made the announcement at Stamford Superior Court, where Skakel and his lawyer appeared for a hearing in the case.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted of murder in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. Several appeals followed. After serving 11 years behind bars, Skakel was freed in 2013 on $1.2 million bail after a judge overturned his conviction, saying his trial lawyer failed to adequately represent him.

In this Feb. 24, 2016, file photo, Michael Skakel leaves state Supreme Court after his hearing in Hartford, Conn.

The state Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2018, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal last year.

Moxley’s brother, John, and her mother, Dorthy, have said they would be at peace with a decision to not retry Skakel, saying they were wary of having to go through a trial again after 20 years of legal battles.

The case drew wide attention because of the Kennedy name, Skakel’s rich family, numerous theories about who killed Moxley and the brutal way in which she died. Several other people, including Skakel’s brother Tommy Skakel who denied any role in the killing, have been mentioned as possible killers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been one of Skakel’s most prominent defenders.

A retrial would have presented several difficulties for prosecutors. There was a lack of forensic and eyewitness evidence against Skakel. A new alibi witness emerged. A key witness who said Skakel confessed is dead. And the Moxley family is leery of going through another trial.

On the night of the killing, Martha Moxley and other teens in the Belle Haven neighborhood were out doing pre-Halloween pranks and had visited the Skakel home, police said.

Her body was found the next day on her family’s estate, across the street from the Skakel home. She had been beaten with a 6-iron owned by the Skakel family and stabbed in the throat with a piece of the golf club’s shattered shaft, police said.

At Skakel’s trial, prosecutors suggested Skakel was angry with Martha because she had spurned his advances while having a sexual liaison with his brother Tommy.

Michael Skakel said he was miles away from the crime scene watching a “Monty Python” television show with others at the likely time Moxley was killed. But prosecutors maintain he could have killed her after returning home that night.

Police interviewed numerous witnesses, but the case went cold.

Interest was revived in 1993, when author Dominick Dunne published a novel, “A Season in Purgatory,” based on the murder.

Then, in 1998, former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, who gained notoriety in the O.J. Simpson murder case, published his own book, “Murder in Greenwich,” which asserted Michael Skakel killed Moxley in a jealous rage after seeing Thomas Skakel kiss her.

Also in 1998, a one-judge grand jury was announced to investigate the killing, resulting in Skakel’s arrest in 2000 and conviction in 2002.

After Skakel was freed in 2013, prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court, which reinstated the conviction in a 4-3 ruling in 2016.

But two years later, the high court reversed itself and tossed the conviction in a highly unusual decision that came after the justice who wrote the 2016 majority opinion retired soon afterward.

A new justice was appointed and sided with Skakel, as the court reconsidered the case at Skakel’s request. Justices said in the new 4-3 ruling that Skakel’s trial lawyer, Michael Sherman, failed to present an alibi witness.

Although Sherman, who defended his work, did present alibi witnesses at trial, they were relatives of Skakel. Justice said if Sherman had presented witness Denis Ossorio, who wasn’t related to the Skakels, it would have had more credibility with the jury.