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Skakel urges high court to disregard prosecutors’ petition

November 27, 2018

Legal papers filed in the nation’s highest court Monday argue that Michael Skakel was unfairly convicted due to “inexcusable” mistakes by his defense lawyer.

Skakel’s latest defense team is attempting to block Connecticut prosecutors’ request that the U.S. Supreme Court review their petition to reinstate the conviction against Skakel for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley in Greenwich.

The Connecticut Supreme Court earlier this year reversed its own 2016 decision and vacated Skakel’s murder conviction on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial due to inadequate representation by defense lawyer Michael Sherman.

Connecticut’s Office of the Chief State’s Attorney contends that Skakel had a more than adequate defense and went to the Supreme Court to petition for a review and a reinstatement of the original conviction.

According to the brief filed Monday, “The jury convicted him because his trial counsel inexcusably failed to uncover and present powerful exculpatory evidence independently corroborating his alibi and implicating his older brother in the murder.”

The motion says an alibi witness should have been called who could have told the jury he recalled watching television with Skakel on the night of the killing. The failure to bring up another suspect during the trial — Michael Skakel’s brother, Thomas — was also cited as a major deficiency.

“Strikingly, Sherman made no attempt to argue that Thomas Skakel might have committed the murder. In fact, there was plenty of evidence unfavorable to Thomas,” the brief states.

Skakel’s Washington D.C., lawyer, Roman Martinez, said Monday that the Connecticut Supreme Court had acted correctly when it vacated the conviction against Skakel.

“We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will look at this case closely. The closer it looks, the more likely it is to conclude that the Connecticut Supreme Court got it right,” he said.

Skakel was “denied a constitutional right to a fair trial,” he said.

In particular he cited Sherman’s inability to track down a man, Denis Ossorio, who according to some accounts had watched an episode of “Monty Python” with Michael Skakel on the evening when Moxley was killed.

The question of whether Skakel received a fair trial has been debated in testimony and in hundreds of court papers in the state, and now Washington D.C. Connecticut prosecutors have scoffed at the notion that Skakel did not receive a good legal defense during his murder trial.

“The well-to-do defendant was represented by a highly-skilled and experienced defense attorney, who was himself aided by a team of other attorneys,” wrote the petitioners, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane and Senior Assistant State’s Attorney James A. Killen.

“Together, they utilized resources that the vast majority of criminal defendants can only dream of accessing,” they wrote. “They hired three sets of investigators and consulted with a number of experts in various fields, including many legal experts who are among the most distinguished criminal defense attorneys in the state, if not the nation.”

The Connecticut prosecutors contend there is an important legal issue in the Skakel case, one that warrants Supreme Court review, and 11 other states have filed briefs in support of the review. The Skakel case could be tied into how a 1984 court case, Strickland v. Washington, is applied, they state. The Strickland ruling established a legal concept that a right to a fair trial is violated if the legal defense is inadequate or incompetent.

Martha Moxley, a 15-year-old Greenwich High School sophomore, was beaten to death and stabbed with a golf club near her home in the wealthy enclave of Belle Haven on the night before Halloween in 1975. Skakel served more than 11 years on a murder conviction for the crime in 2002. He was released in 2013, when a state judge ruled he was convicted as a result of incompetent legal counsel, starting extensive litigation over the issue. He is currently living in Westchester County, N.Y.

The brief filed Monday claims a number of deficiencies in addition to the matters of alibi witnesses and additional suspects.

“Sherman’s performance was deficient under any plausible standard,” the motion reads.

The motion concludes: “Our Constitution demands that those accused of crimes receive reasonably competent representation. That did not happen here. Respondent has served 11 years in prison because his own lawyer failed to introduce readily available evidence supporting his innocence.”

The U.S. Supreme Court can decline to review the case without giving any explanation. The court receives thousands of petitions a year, and the justices only take on a few hundred.

The Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement that it was reviewing Skakel’s latest filing and would file a response if needed.

rmarchant@greenwichtime.com

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