November 6, 2013

Judge: Kennedy cousin Skakel can’t be released yet

Michael Skakel’s attorneys want him to be freed while awaiting a retrial in the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.

By John Christoffersen
The Associated Press

VERNON, Conn. — Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel cannot be released immediately while he awaits a new trial in the 1975 slaying of neighbor Martha Moxley, a judge said Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

In this Oct. 24, 2012, photo, Michael Skakel listens during a parole hearing at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn.

The Associated Press

But Judge Thomas Bishop did lift a stay, which could clear the way for Skakel to seek bail later. The decision to lift the stay is not effective for 10 days and prosecutors can appeal it, though they said they hadn’t determined yet whether they would.

Bishop ruled on Oct. 23 that Skakel’s trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent him in 2002 when he was convicted in Moxley’s golf club bludgeoning. Skakel and Moxley were 15-year-old neighbors in wealthy Greenwich at the time of her death.

In removing the stay, Bishop said Sherman’s errors were “substantial and pervasive.” He said he didn’t believe Skakel should be required to remain in prison for months or years while his ruling granting a new trial is appealed.

“This case was not a close call for this court,” Bishop said.

Bishop said the case was sad for the victim’s family.

Skakel’s attorneys want him to be freed while awaiting a retrial, saying that keeping him in prison would be a miscarriage of justice. Prosecutors objected to the request for bond and are appealing the ruling granting Skakel a new trial.

Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life. He wore handcuffs and leg shackles to court Wednesday and smiled and waved to supporters as he came into the courtroom.

His current attorney, Hubert Santos, had filed a motion seeking a $500,000 bond. Santos pushed for immediate bail, slamming the state’s case against Skakel and noting that Skakel’s son was only 4 or 5 when he was sent to prison more than a decade ago.

“He’s entitled to get out as soon as possible,” Santos said, expressing concern that an appeal of the stay decision could take a month or two.

Prosecutor Susann Gill said the state’s case against Skakel was strong. Prosecutors argued Bishop doesn’t have the authority to grant bond because of an automatic stay of his ruling while they appeal.

Bishop lifted the stay Wednesday but decided he didn’t have the authority to grant bail.

“Whatever inherent authority the court may have it’s not unbounded, and I believe it’s not applicable to this case,” Bishop said.

Gill argued against terminating the stay, saying it would thwart the administration of justice by requiring the state to retry Skakel before an appeal is finished.

“The state is entitled to avail itself of the appellate process and seek vindication of a result it believes to be unjust,” Gill wrote in legal briefs.

But Bishop said he addressed that concern by having Skakel agree to waive his right to a speedy trial.

Santos said automatic stays during appeals do not apply to cases like Skakel’s and even if they did Bishop has the authority to terminate it.

Skakel “has been returned to the status of an innocent defendant awaiting trial,” Santos wrote in court papers, adding he was not a flight risk and contends it’s “highly unlikely” prosecutors will win their appeal.

Gill said she disagrees that an appeal likely won’t be successful.

Sherman, the trial attorney, has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel’s conviction.

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