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Kennedy cousin freed on bail, awaits new trial

November 21, 2013

STAMFORD, Connecticut (AP) — Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was freed on bail Thursday while prosecutors appeal a ruling giving him a new trial in the 1975 killing of teenage neighbor Martha Moxley.

Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, touched his hand to his chest as the judge set bail at $1.2 million. He had been in prison more than 11 years on a sentence of 20 years to life.

As conditions of the bail, the judge ordered that Skakel live in Connecticut and wear a GPS tracking device.

“He’s one of the most recognized faces of America, so he’s not going anywhere,” defense attorney Hubert Santos said. Santos said Skakel was “very happy” about the outcome.

A judge ruled last month that Skakel’s trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent him in 2002 when he was convicted in Moxley’s bludgeoning with a golf club when they were both 15.

“This is the first step in correcting a terrible wrong,” the Skakel family said in a statement. “We look forward to Michael being vindicated and justice finally being served.”

Outside court, Moxley’s brother John and mother, Dorthy, said they continue to believe Skakel killed Martha and are confident he will be convicted again at a new trial.

“I’m disappointed. ... I guess we knew that the day would come,” Dorthy Moxley said. “I wasn’t completely destroyed, but I wish it didn’t happen.”

Robert Kennedy Jr., who campaigned to overturn Skakel’s conviction, had said this week that he felt “pure joy” that his cousin was expected to be released. Skakel has seen his son only a handful of times since he was sent to prison, he said.

“Everybody in my family knows that Michael is innocent,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “He was in jail for over a decade for a crime he didn’t commit. The only crime that he committed was having a bad lawyer.”

The case was considered a challenge for prosecutors because of issues including the age of the crime and the lack of forensic evidence. Skakel’s trial focused on testimony that he confessed or made incriminating statements over the years.

The judge said Sherman failed to locate a witness who supported Skakel’s alibi that he was at his cousin’s house the night of the murder and failed to find a man who challenged a star witness’s claim that Skakel confessed.

Both Sherman and prosecutors defended his handling of the case.

Skakel’s older brother Thomas was an early suspect in the case because he was the last person seen with the victim, and the judge said in his ruling that Michael Skakel’s defense should have focused more on Thomas.

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