No New Trial for Michael Skakel

A state court trial judge has has refused to grant Michael Skakel a new trial based on new evidence presented at a hearing last summer showing he did not kill Martha Moxley.

Karazin found that the 2003 interview of Skakel's Brunswick School classmate, Gitano "Tony" Bryant, in which Bryant told a private investigator that his friends Adolph Hasbrouck and Burt Tinsley confessed to killing Moxley, was not believable. Bryant is a cousin of NBA star Kobe Bryant.

The judge said no other witnesses at the 2002 trial or the hearing placed Bryant or the other two youths in Belle Haven on the night of the murder and physical evidence did not bear out Bryant's claim that the two boys had described dragging her by the hair.

"The testimony of Bryant is absent any genuine corroboration," Karazin wrote. "It lacks credibility and therefore would not produce a different result at a new trial."

The defense will appeal the decision. And file another suit challenging the conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel.


On that one, I agree with the prosecutor:

Benedict, who argued against Skakel's petition, praised Sherman's performance. "My own opinion is that he (Sherman) hit hard on every avenue of defense and did an excellent job in the case," Benedict said.

TalkLeft's prior Skakel coverage is here. My thoughts on why he was convicted are here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    both michael skakel & scot peterson (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Fri Oct 26, 2007 at 12:11:55 PM EST
    were convicted for reasons having nothing whatever to do with their actual proven culpability. both may be guilty of the crimes they were convicted of, i have no idea. however, in neither case did the prosecution present any evidence that actually connected them to the events in question.

    they were both convicted because the victims were seen as sympathetic, they themselves were unlikable, and the prosecution appealed to the jury's sense of outrage, not the facts of the case. the media certainly contributed to both convictions, by their consistent portrayals of both skakel & peterson as "guilty by reason of reputation".

    in both instances, the presiding judges, had they any integrity, would have thrown out the respective jury's convictions. however, due to the compelling nature of the victim's, and the expected backlash, they didn't. shame on them.

    That's simply completely untrue (none / 0) (#2)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Oct 26, 2007 at 12:21:31 PM EST
      In both cases there was a huge amount of circumstantial evidence linking the defendants to the crimes and in Skakel's case there was also testimony that he confessed. Not only did the juries in both cases find the inculpatory evidence persuasive but reviewing courts have made express findings that the evidence supporting the verdicts was not merely sufficient for a rational finder of fact to find guilt but characterized the evidence as substantial or even overwhelming.

      For you to accuse the judges of having no integrity because you personally don't like the verdicts is beyond unfair.



    Scott Peterson conviction (none / 0) (#3)
    by magster on Fri Oct 26, 2007 at 12:51:49 PM EST
    I can understand, as there was strong circumstantial evidence and a clear motive.

    The Skakel conviction I have a harder time with on the reasonable doubt standard.


    Agreeing with the prosecutor (none / 0) (#4)
    by Gideon on Fri Oct 26, 2007 at 06:53:26 PM EST

    Could you explain why you agree with the prosecutor that Mickey Sherman did a bang-up job? From everything I've read, it seems that there was quite a bit of stuff that he missed (I mean, the State can't have it both ways - that it wasn't newly discovered and that Mickey wasn't ineffective for not presenting it). I understand that it may not rise to the level of ineffectiveness or that the second prong of Strickland might not be met, but I think there's sufficient evidence to at least present a colorable claim.

    Some general observations (none / 0) (#5)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Oct 27, 2007 at 08:10:59 AM EST
      (which to a degree you implicitly) acknowledge.

      Under the first prong of Strickland, a petitioner must establish that his attorney was "ineffective." Failure to investigate adequately  is one of the most frequently raised (and probably frequently  accepted by courts) grounds for claims of ineffectiveness. But, the issue is not whether an attorney conducted a "perfect" investigation, rather it is  whether he conducted a "competent" investigation. Where things require an exercise of judgment (for example, whether to expend limited time and resources on a particular avenue of investigation or elsewhere) unless an attorney's judgment call is so lacking that no competent lawyer would have made a similar judgment call  it is generally not going to rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel.

      Also, as you phrased it(ineffective for not "presenting" the evidence), even greater deference is afforded the trial counsel. Meaning that if the lawyer testifies he was aware of witnesses and generally what they would have been expected to testify but chose not to present it for articulable strategic or tactical reasons it is almost never going to be found "ineffective" unless the reasons are simply incoprehensible reasons. For example, if the lawyer states I did not think the jury would find the witnesses credible in light of their personal characteristics and/or other evidence, or that the testimony would have been cumulative of other evidence from more credible and/or persuasive sources, or that he didn't use the witnesses because despite the exculpatory nature of certain testimony which could have provided he believe damaging testimny might be elicited on cross-examination, the decision not to present it is not likely to be found ineffective assistance of counsel-- even if in hindsight one might conclude it would have been helpful to the defense.

      Obviously, when a trial has resulted in the conviction of defendant of the most serious possible charges, everyone, including lawyer himself  will second guess his decisions and performance (after all it could not have been worse to have done things differently, could it?) but that does not mean he was "ineffective."

      Of course, not being "ineffective" and doing a great job can be far removed in some cases, but cases are lost where lawyers do excellent work. Facts will tell.