Connecticut Supreme Court Affirms Michael Skakel Conviction

In a 4 to 1 opinion, the Connecticut Supreme Court today upheld the conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel for the murder of Martha Moxley.

The appeal centered on Skakel's theory that two alternate suspects committed the crime. The court said the evidence doesn't support that claim. The majority opinion is here. There is also a concurring opinion, and a dissenting opinion. [More...]

From the Hartford Courant:

Justice Richard N. Palmer dissented broadly, arguing that Skakel deserved a new trial on the basis of statements obtained by Skakel's lawyers from Gitano "Tony" Bryant, a frequent teenage visitor to Greenwich at the time of Moxley's death. Bryant said two of his friends implicated themselves in the bludgeoning.

Palmer also wrote in his dissent that the Bryant evidence could have created reasonable doubt about Skakel's guilt among jurors when considered against another piece of new evidence argued by Skakel's legal team: The relationship between the lead investigator in the case, Frank Garr, and Leonard Levitt, the author of a book about the victim's murder on which Garr collaborated.

Palmer said the views expressed in the book by Garr reflect his "strong and long-standing feelings of antipathy" toward Skakel and members of Skakel's family.

According to the Journal Inquirer:

One unusual twist to today’s decision is that Justice Joette Katz, who wrote the decision against Skakel, is a former public defender, while Justice Richard Palmer, who was the only dissenter, is a former prosecutor.

Skakel still has a habeas appeal pending in federal court over whether the statute of limitations in 1975 when the killing occurred barred his conviction and whether the defense should have been allowed to introduce evidence that "a key prosecution witness lied when he testified during a preliminary court hearing that Skakel confessed to the Moxley killing while attending a program for troubled youths." The witness died before the trial and the trial court allowed his preliminary hearing testimony to be read to the jury. (I attended the trial that day and describe it here.)

Moxley was killed in 1975. Both she and Skakel were 15. Skakel was not charged until 2000. He is serving a 20 year sentence. All of our coverage of the case (strongly criticizing the trial and conviction) is assembled here.

Update: From the dissent, describing the evidence at trial against Skakel and the effect of the new evidence the court refused to consider:

.... the testimony that was used to convict the petitioner... consisted almost entirely of equivocal admissions by the petitioner and one dubious confession that he allegedly had made while he was a student at Elan School, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility for troubled adolescents located in Poland, Maine. Moreover, there was no physical evidence connecting the petitioner to the crime and no eyewitnesses.

In light of the relatively weak evidence adduced by the state and the comparative strength of the newly discovered third party culpability evidence, I am convinced that that new evidence, at an absolute minimum, gives rise to a reasonable doubt about whether the petitioner had murdered the victim. I therefore am persuaded that, if the jury had considered the Bryant evidence together with the original trial evidence that it did consider, it is very likely that the verdict would have been different.

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    I've always found this case very disturbing (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by esmense on Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 01:19:19 PM EST
    ...too many people gained celebrity by and made money off of the effort to make "a Kennedy" pay for this crime.

    Well (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 03:51:59 PM EST
    Sounds like there are lots of reasonable doubts, to me.

    Astounding (none / 0) (#3)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 04:08:07 PM EST
    I found this verdict absolutely astounding at the time.  What incredibly thin shreds of so-called evidence on which to convict somebody of murder 20 years after the fact.

    Judges' decisions (none / 0) (#4)
    by NYShooter on Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 06:12:48 PM EST
    Regarding what should, or should not, be admitted into a trial are often arbitrary, capricious, or just display their own personal pique. How demeaning! Juries are often charged with life and/or death responsibilities yet are supposedly too stupid or whimsical to be able to differentiate what is, or is not, appropriate to be considered in their decision making process. Except in the most obvious circumstances, I say "let it all come in." I trust the collective wisdom of a group of jurors, hearing all the testimony, and the explanations by the representative attorneys, rather than the whim of one, self-important "judge."

    Many (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Tue Apr 13, 2010 at 10:21:14 AM EST
    Criminal defense attorneys would not agree with you on that!  

    Huh. (none / 0) (#5)
    by mcl on Tue Apr 13, 2010 at 05:34:53 AM EST
    Isn't it unusual for an appelate court to rule of the evidence, rather than the law?  I thought appelate courts primarily dealt with issues of legal impropriety during the original trial, rather than evidentiary issues.