Murder conviction vacated for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Murder conviction vacated for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel

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Michael Skakel. (AP photo) Michael Skakel. (AP photo)
HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

The Connecticut Supreme Court has vacated Michael Skakel’s murder conviction and a new trial has been ordered.

Skakel was convicted in 2002 of beating 15-year-old Martha Moxley to death in Greenwich on October 31st,1975.

Prosecutors said Skakel beat Moxley to death with a golf club in Greenwich when they were both 15 years old.

On Friday, the 4-3 ruling determined that murder charge is vacated, 15 years after the jury convicted Skakel after his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to present evidence of an alibi.

The decision reversed the court’s previous ruling that reinstated Skakel's conviction after a lower court had ordered a new trial.

Channel 3 spoke with Defense Attorney Ryan McGuigan who shed light on why the decision to order a new trial is the right thing for the Connecticut Supreme Court Justices to do. 

"You want to be as proactive as you can to assure the public that innocent people won't be convicted wrongfully," clarified McGuigan. 

The case has drawn international attention because of the Kennedy name, Skakel's wealthy family, numerous theories about who killed Moxley and the brutal way in which she died. Several other people, including Skakel's brother Tommy Skakel, have been mentioned as possible killers.

"There are going to be people obviously who are going to make the connection that these are Kennedys and this is a big decision and that it may have been politically motivated considering this is the royal family of the Democratic Party," added McGuigan.

Skakel's appellate lawyer, Hubert Santos, had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its 2016 ruling, resulting in Friday's decision.

Santos argued that Sherman made poor decisions, including not focusing on Skakel's brother as a possible suspect and failing to attempt to contact an alibi witness. Santos said Skakel was several miles away from the crime scene watching a Monty Python movie with friends when Moxley was bludgeoned with a golf club.

Santos released a statement after the decision, which said,

"We are gratified by the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling today.  As the Court has now definitively held, Michael Skakel’s conviction violated his Sixth Amendment constitutional right to counsel.  The Supreme Court did the right thing in overturning that conviction.  Mr. Skakel’s trial counsel failed to investigate the key alibi witness who later confirmed that he was far from the Moxley home at the time the murder took place.  That failure prevented the jury from fairly considering all of the evidence in Mr. Skakel’s case.  When the alibi witness later testified in the post-conviction proceeding, the presiding judge concluded that his testimony supporting Mr. Skakel was “powerful” and “credible.”   As the Connecticut Supreme Court has now recognized in its carefully reasoned, 69-page opinion, Mr. Skakel’s conviction was fundamentally unfair and cannot stand. Today’s ruling makes clear that Michael Skakel spent 11-and-a-half years unjustly imprisoned in violation of the Constitution.  To be absolutely clear: Michael Skakel is innocent of this crime.  We are grateful to Judge Bishop and the Connecticut Supreme Court for correcting this miscarriage of justice."

Santos also has said there was no physical evidence or eyewitnesses linking Skakel to the killing.

Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, but was freed on $1.2 million bail after the lower court overturned his murder conviction in 2013.

Copyright 2018 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.