VERNON, Conn. (AP) — An attorney for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel said Wednesday he plans to call him to testify as he challenges his 2002 murder conviction on the grounds his trial attorney failed to competently defend him.
Skakel, the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, is expected to testify Thursday in Rockville Superior Court, said his attorney, Hubert Santos. He didn’t testify at his trial but spoke last year when he was denied parole.
Skakel is serving 20 years to life for the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of Martha Moxley when they were 15-year-old neighbors in wealthy Greenwich, but he maintains his innocence. He’s hoping to get out of prison through a writ of habeas corpus arguing he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal representation when Michael Sherman was his attorney. Skakel, 52, argues Sherman got caught up in the limelight of the high-profile case and failed to prepare.
Sherman has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel’s conviction and has denied he was distracted by media attention.
Santos said Skakel wanted to testify at his trial. Sherman said Skakel agreed he probably shouldn’t testify.
Sherman said last week that Skakel is intelligent but has a temper and he didn’t want the jury to see him showing anger.
Skakel’s defense argues Sherman failed to obtain evidence pointing to other suspects and failed to challenge a former classmate who testified Skakel confessed to the crime when they attended a reform school in Maine in the late 1970s.
They also say he failed to prepare witnesses, made inappropriate jury picks and delivered a poor closing argument.
Sherman denied the claims, saying he spent substantial time preparing witnesses, believed he had destroyed the credibility of the witness who said Skakel confessed and did all he could to obtain evidence and investigate the case.
Skakel, at his parole hearing last year, spoke slowly and softly, saying: “I did not commit this crime.”
He told the parole board he prays every day that whoever committed the crime is brought to justice but he is the wrong man. He said his best chance to win parole was to admit guilt.
“If I could ease Mrs. Moxley’s pain in any way, manner, shape or form I would take responsibility all day long for this crime,” Skakel said, referring to the victim’s mother, Dorthy Moxley.
But, he added, “I cannot bear false witness against myself.”
Skakel also talked about his mother’s death at an early age, his learning disability and a childhood in which he attended numerous schools. He said at the time his ex-wife was diagnosed with cancer and he was concerned about his 13-year-old son.
“I’m at your mercy,” Skakel said. “If anything this justice system, this life, has taught me I have no power. The only power I have is prayer.”