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Judge orders retrial for Skakel

by JAMES BARRON New York Times News Service on October 24, 2013 10:20 AM

A Connecticut judge on Wednesday ordered a new trial for Michael C. Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy who was convicted in 2002 of bludgeoning a neighbor with a golf club in 1975, saying his original lawyer had not represented him effectively.

The decision was another turn in a high-profile case that drew television crews and celebrity crime writers like Dominick Dunne. Judge Thomas A. Bishop of the Connecticut Appellate Court set aside the murder conviction of Skakel, 53, who was sentenced to 20 years to life for killing the neighbor, Martha Moxley, when they were both teenagers in Greenwich.

The 136-page decision amounted to a review of the trial and an attack on the way Michael Sherman, the lawyer who represented Skakel before he was convicted, had handled his defense.

Bishop said that Sherman had been “in a myriad of ways ineffective” as Skakel’s lawyer.

Skakel’s current lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, said he was thrilled with the decision. “Pleased is an understatement,” he said, adding that he would file a motion today to have Skakel freed on bail.

Skakel has served 11 years of his sentence. Last year, a three-person parole board turned down his application to be released.

The state’s attorney handling the case, John C. Smriga, told The Associated Press that prosecutors would appeal Bishop’s ruling.

The victim’s brother, John Moxley, said he found the decision frustrating, coming after previous appeals had been rejected.

“It’s just amazing that you have all these appeals, the appellate courts, all these different very sophisticated judges, and then, you know, a judge in a sleepy little town way upstate in Connecticut completely upsets the apple cart,” he said. “But we’ll get through this. There’s no question that Michael’s guilty.”

Skakel was not arrested until he was in his late 30s, a quarter of a century after the murder.

Moxley was struck with a 6-iron from a set that had belonged to Skakel’s mother. She was hit with so much force that the head of the club broke apart.

Sherman had argued that Skakel was miles away, at a cousin’s home, watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on television.

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