SUFFIELD, Conn. – Imprisoned Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel lost a bid for freedom on Wednesday, turned down at his first parole hearing since he was convicted a decade ago of beating his teenage neighbor to death with a golf club and told he would not be eligible again to be considered for release for five years.

Skakel, who proclaimed his innocence at the hearing, nodded, grimaced and patted his attorney on the back as he was led away after the three-person state parole board announced the unanimous decision.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 of fatally beating Martha Moxley in Greenwich in 1975, when they were 15. He is serving 20 years to life in prison.

The decision was the latest setback for Skakel, who has lost appeals challenging his conviction. Skakel, whose case has long drawn national attention, has another appeal challenging the work and competency of his trial attorney coming up for trial in the spring. Skakel claims the trial attorney had financial problems and didn’t devote enough money to prepare the case,.

The denial of parole came after Skakel’s supporters, including his cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., sent letters to the parole board describing him as a model inmate who has touched many lives in a positive way with his artwork and by helping recovering alcoholics and teaching English as a second language to prisoners.

At the hearing at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution , Skakel spoke softly, saying: “I did not commit this crime.”

In attendance was the victim’s mother, Dorthy Moxley, who said losing a child is the worst thing in the world and Skakel should serve at least 20 years. “Martha, my baby, will never have a life,” she said, her voice breaking.