NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who lost an appeal of his conviction for a 1975 killing, could be released from prison in three years because of more lenient laws in place at the time of the crime, officials said.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life for fatally beating Martha Moxley with a golf club in wealthy Greenwich when they were 15-year-old neighbors. The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected his latest appeal Monday.

Skakel is eligible for parole consideration on April 3, 2013, based on credits for good behavior and other activities such as participating in programs, said Brian Garnett, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction. That policy was eliminated in 1994, he said.

Skakel, 49, could have his first parole hearing in 18 months because hearings generally are held about 18 months before the parole eligibility date, said John Lahda, executive director of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Skakel’s Kennedy connection will play no role in deciding whether he should be released from prison, Lahda said. The board considers a prisoner’s disciplinary record, whether he held a job in prison, participated in programs and, most importantly, what’s contained in victim impact statements, he said.

“We take the victim’s rights very seriously here,” Lahda said.

John Moxley, the victim’s brother, said he will oppose Skakel’s release.

“There’s been no remorse,” Moxley said. “There’s been no taking accountability. There’s been nothing to suggest that imprisonment has changed his mindset or the mindset of the family.”

Dorthy Moxley, the victim’s mother, said she would prefer Skakel remain in prison for 20 years, but she said she wouldn’t get too upset if he got released. “If that’s what happens, I will be able to live with it,” she said.

Skakel has not had any discipline issues in prison, Garnett said. He has participated in a prison art program, and a drawing he did of his son George was displayed at a community college in Hartford.

Hugh Keefe, a prominent defense lawyer in New Haven not involved in the case, said be believes Skakel has a good chance of winning parole in three years.

“There’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t get the same benefit people got at that time,” Keefe said. “All the criteria I know they use he passes with flying colors. It should not be held against him because he is a prominent person from a prominent family.”

Jeffrey Meyer, a Quinnipiac University law professor who has written about Connecticut’s parole laws, sounded more doubtful. He noted that the hearing will get a lot of attention and the parole board has been cautious after a notorious home invasion in Connecticut in which a woman and her two daughters were killed, allegedly by two men who were paroled.

On the other hand, Skakel can argue that the crime he was convicted of occurred nearly four decades ago, Meyer said.

“He’ll have substantial arguments that he’s not at risk to reoffend again,” Meyer said.

Skakel is pursuing other appeals, including plans to argue he had ineffective legal counsel at his trial.


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