Skakel freed on $1.2-million bond

Michael Skakel, at right, exits Stamford Superior Court with his attorney, Hubert Santos and supporters after he was released on bail. — John Ferris Robben

Michael Skakel, at right, exits Stamford Superior Court with his attorney, Hubert Santos and supporters after he was released on bail. — John Ferris Robben

Former Greenwich resident Michael Skakel left Stamford Superior Court a free man last Thursday afternoon after Judge Gary White released him on a $1.2-million bond.

Mr. Skakel was convicted in 2002 of the 1975 murder of teenager Martha Moxley, his neighbor in the Belle Haven section of town. However, last month that verdict was set aside by Judge Thomas Bishop, who found merit in Mr. Skakel’s claims that he had not received an adequate defense from attorney Mickey Sherman. Now Mr. Skakel will await a decision from the state as to whether it will retry him on the murder charge. Additionally, the state has appealed Judge Bishop’s ruling, meaning Mr. Skakel’s freedom could be only temporary.

The conditions of Mr. Skakel being released on bail are that he live in Connecticut, that he not leave the state without the permission of the court, that he wear a GPS tracking device, that he have no contact with the Moxley family unless the court deems it to be necessary, and that he check in with the state’s bail commissioner on a biweekly basis.

The state did not oppose bail being issued in this case but did ask that it be at least $2 million. State’s Attorney John Smriga said during the proceeding that the state would first pursue its appeal of Judge Bishop’s ruling before making any decisions about a retrial.

He said he believed Judge Bishop’s decision would be reversed under appeal and that the state’s case remained strong. Mr. Smriga said the state felt the standard Judge Bishop used to determine that Mr. Sherman’s defense of his client was insufficient was incorrectly applied.

“The weight of the state’s case has been heard over and over and over again, and [before Judge Bishop’s ruling] it was sustained  in every instance,” Mr. Smriga said.

Mr. Skakel’s attorney, Hubert Santos, said in court that Mr. Skakel would take up residence in the state but said he preferred to not say where it would be publicly, because of all the media attention surrounding the case. Mr. Skakel’s aunt, Ethel, was the widow of former U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy Jr., making him a cousin to the Kennedy family. Robert Kennedy Jr. has been a frequent advocate for Mr. Skakel in recent years, claiming in interviews and in articles that his cousin is innocent.

The case also gained national notoriety because of the decades-long wait between Ms. Moxley’s murder and charges being brought against Mr. Skakel. Several books have been written on the subject and a TV movie was made for cable.

Mr. Skakel did not speak to the media after exiting the courthouse a free man for the first time in more than 11 years, but Mr. Santos made a short statement.

“There were two tragedies that occurred in Greenwich, Conn., in 1975,” Mr. Santos said. “The first was, of course, the murder of Martha Moxley. It was a great tragedy for the Moxley family and everyone else associated with the matter. The second great tragedy occurred in a courthouse in Norwalk, Conn., in 2002 when Michael was convicted of the murder of Martha Moxley, a murder he did not commit. Hopefully, we are at the first step of righting that wrong and making sure that an innocent man now goes free.”

Martha Moxley’s mother, Dorothy, and brother, John, attended the hearing and spoke briefly with reporters outside the courthouse. Mrs. Moxley said they were disappointed that Mr. Skakel was out of jail. Mr. Moxley said there was never any question that they would have been there that day and that they remain convinced of Mr. Skakel’s guilt.

“If there’s another trial we will be there for that, too,” Mr. Moxley said.

When asked if he had any messages for Mr. Skakel, Mr. Moxley said he had “nothing to say to Michael.”

In the courtroom, Mr. Smriga spoke about the strange situation they were in since bail hearings were typically held after someone was first arrested, not because a verdict had been vacated. He said under the law the state did not wish to contest the granting of bail, but did push it to be higher than where Judge White ended up setting it.

Mr. Smriga asked for the higher bond because of the “particularly brutal crime” of Ms. Moxley’s murder and because of concerns about Mr. Skakel’s mental health. He showed Judge White a list of people facing attempted murder and murder charges and noted the difference between them and Mr. Skakel with all his resources.

“The people on this list have not traveled the world or met Mother Teresa,” Mr. Smriga said. “I can guarantee you that.”

Judge White did exceed the bail commissioner’s recommendation that it be set at $1 million as well as Mr. Santos’ plea that it be at $500,000, which was the size of the bond Mr. Skakel was released on when he was first arrested for Ms. Moxley’s murder. Mr. Santos noted that there had never been an issue with Mr. Skakel’s appearances in court.

“[Mr. Skakel] has the track record of an individual who has appeared every time he has been asked to appear,” Mr. Santos said.

He then added, “Michael Skakel is one of the most recognizable faces in America. He’s not going anywhere. He wants to see his son.”

Mr. Skakel’s son George was 3 years old at the time of the conviction and is now 14. Mr. Santos said the two have been face to face on only a few occasions since the conviction and that Mr. Skakel wanted to reconnect with his son.

Mr. Santos also took time in court to attack the state’s case, claiming it was full of holes, as it relied on testimony read into the record by the late Gregory Coleman, who claimed that Mr. Skakel had confessed to the murder while they were both residents of the controversial drug rehabilitation program Elan.

Mr. Santos said that because of the “circus atmosphere” around the case, his client never had a chance at a fair trial. Mr. Santos noted particularly a book written by former Los Angles police Detective Mark Furhman, of O.J. Simpson trial infamy, and articles from the late Dominic Dunne for Vanity Fair. Mr. Santos said there was shock when Mr. Skakel was actually convicted, even from “his antagonist Dominic Dunne.”

He claimed that the conviction was the result of a “brilliant summation” from then State’s Attorney Jonathan Benedict and not the result of any actual evidence.

“There was no DNA,” Mr. Santos said. “There was no forensic evidence. There were no eyewitnesses. There was no eyewitness. The only witness they had was [Mr. Coleman], who didn’t remember anything until he saw a story about it on TV which mentioned a reward.”

Mr. Santos attacked the credibility of the late Mr. Coleman, who struggled with drug issues his whole life, and said the state had no good evidence.

“If the state had found a homeless guy on the train platform claiming that Michael Skakel had committed murder 22 years ago they would have put him on the stand in a New York minute,” Mr. Santos claimed.

Mr. Smriga derided the idea that Mr. Benedict “was some kind of Svengali” manipulating the jury and said that all he did during his closing statement was take the pieces of the puzzle and put them together “so people could see what they looked like.”

“We’re prepared to do that again if necessary [at a new trial],” Mr. Smriga said.

Several of Mr. Skakel’s brothers as well as his aunt were in the courtroom during the hearing. While Mr. Skakel betrayed no visible emotion when bail was granted, several of his supporters broke into applause when bail was granted.

 

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