Connecticut judge Thomas A. Bishop wrote a 136-page opinion criticising the lawyer who represented Michael Skakel in the case, which accused him of killing 15-year-old Martha Moxley in wealthy Greenwich, Conn.
“The defence of a serious felony prosecution requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defence …,” the judge wrote. “Trial counsel’s failures in each of these areas were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defence.”
The strange case against Skakel had no physical evidence and went unsolved for two decades, as the judge noted. Skakel’s life of privilege was interrupted in 2000, when he was charged in the horrific murder at the age of 39.
In 1975, Moxley was killed just outside her family’s house with a 6-iron golf club owned by Michael Skakel’s mother Anne Reynolds Skakel. He and his brother Thomas were both suspects in the case, as was a tutor who lived with the Skakels. Nobody was arrested after the 1975 murder, though, and the case went cold for decades.
The case started to heat up again in 1998, after former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman wrote a book called “Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?” Fuhrman theorized that Michael Skakel killed Moxley after he saw her kiss his brother. That same year, the state attorney in Bridgeport, Conn. convened a grand jury to see if there was enough evidence to prosecute any of the suspects, according to The Times.
Skakel — who had worked with his cousin at a company called Citizens Energy Corporation and as a professional speed skier — was convicted of murder in 2002 despite a lack of physical evidence. The Times reported that the jury heard evidence that he had unrequited romantic feelings for Moxley and access to the weapon used to kill her.
The jury also heard Skakel’s admission that he’d climbed a tree in the Moxleys’ backyard to try to get a glimpse of the girl and masturbate on the night she was murdered. The damning story put him at the murder scene the night Moxley was killed.
A witness who attended Elan, a school for troubled youth in Maine, with Skakel also testified he heard him confess to murder. That witness, Gregory Coleman, reportedly told authorities that Skakel had said, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.”
Coleman may not have been the most reliable witness, though. He died from tainted heroin in 2011, The New York Times reported. In his lengthy opinion issued Wednesday, Judge Bishop cited a number of failures on the part of Skakel’s attorney Michael Sherman. Those missteps included his failure to present testimony from a man named Dennis Ossorio, an independent witness who could have testified that Skakel was at a cousin’s house watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” when the murder took place.
“It would be an understatement to say that the state did not possess overwhelming evidence of [Skakel’s] guilt,” the judge wrote.
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