Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 of bludgeoning his neighbour Martha Moxley with a golf club in 1975 when they were both 15 years old in wealthy Greenwich, Conn.
Just last week, a judge ruled Skakel’s lawyer was ineffective. The judge also went to great lengths to point out there wasn’t much evidence of his guilt in the 1975 murder that went cold for more than 20 years.
That ruling prompted the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to write a column proclaiming that “the jury got this one right” and declaring the ruling “peculiar.” Toobin, who covered the trial, isn’t the only person convinced of Skakel’s guilt.
Now-deceased writer Dominick Dunne is arguably responsible for reviving interest in the case in the ’90s after he wrote a novel based on Moxley’s death called “A Season in Purgatory.” In 2000 Dunne wrote a Vanity Fair article that laid out the case against Skakel — part of which Dunne uncovered himself.
In 1975, Moxley was killed outside her house with a 6-iron golf club owned by Skakel’s mother, Anne Reynolds Skakel. Michael’s brother, Thomas, was a suspect in the case, as was a tutor who lived with the Skakels, Dunne writes. Nobody was ever arrested, though suspicion continued to hang over the two Skakel sons.
Dunne got an incredibly hot tip on the case in 1996. That year, he met with an unnamed 24-year-old journalist who told him that Michael Skakel’s father Rushton hired a private detective agency in New York to look into Moxley’s murder several years earlier because he wanted to lift the cloud of suspicion from his sons.
The private detectives — who signed confidentiality agreements — interviewed all seven children in the Skakel family. For the first time, Michael Skakel revealed to detectives that he climbed a tree outside Moxley’s window and masturbated the night she died. Michael Skakel reportedly had a crush on Moxley, whom his brother Thomas was dating.
Detectives spent three years working on the investigation, which ultimately found that Michael Skakel had “in all probability killed” Moxley, according to Dunne’s characterization. The detectives hired the 24-year-old who ultimately met with Dunne to turn the investigation into a narrative. Rushton Skakel stashed the report away, according to Dunne.
The report was destined to see the light of day, though; the 24-year-old source leaked it to Dunne. Dunne, in turn, handed the report to Mark Fuhrman, a former LAPD detective who was looking for a case to investigate. Fuhrman (who had been embroiled in controversy over the O.J. Simpson case) took the report and wrote “Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?” in 1998.
That year, a grand jury began investigating the murder. Skakel was arrested in 2000. CNN has published an excerpt of the report, which had this to say about Michael Skakel’s mental state at the time of the murder:
Michael, at the time, was plagued with serious emotional problems, living, by many accounts, a reckless and drug-fuelled existence. What gradually emerged, from that point forward, was a portrait of a deeply, and somewhat enigmatically, troubled young man. In this light, and during the course of Sutton Associates’ investigation, serious questions and unresolved issues have been raised about Michael and the murder of Martha Moxley. At the very least, it is fair to say Michael Skakel has, for whatever reason, often acted out in ways certain to arouse suspicion. Reportedly, Michael once even confessed to the murder of Martha Moxley in a therapy session while a patient at the Elan treatment center. He quickly recanted.
In seeking a new trial, Skakel has had the support of his cousin, environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has said the new trial will prove Skakel didn’t kill Moxley.
Skakel also apparently has the support of the judge who granted him a new trial, who wrote that “it would be an understatement to say that the state did not possess overwhelming evidence of [Skakel’s] guilt.” The judge also pointed out that there was never any physical evidence against Michael Skakel.
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