Highest Court Reinstates Murder Conviction of Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel | NBC Southern California
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Highest Court Reinstates Murder Conviction of Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel

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    In this Nov. 6, 2013 file photo, Michael Skakel listens to Judge Trial Referee Thomas Bishop's ruling during a hearing in Rockville Superior Court in Vernon, Conn., to determine if he could be released while awaiting a new trial in the 1975 slaying of neighbor Martha Moxley.

    A divided Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday reinstated Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's murder conviction in the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley, rejecting a lower court ruling in an appeal that his trial lawyer didn't adequately represent him.

    The state's highest court issued a 4-3 decision ordering a lower court to reject Skakel's appeal.

    It wasn't immediately clear if Skakel will be sent back to prison or allowed to remain free if he appeals or asks the high court to reconsider. His lawyer, Hubert Santos, said he was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

    Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, was convicted of murder in 2002 in the killing of Moxley in a wealthy Greenwich neighborhood three decades ago when they were teenage neighbors. Moxley was bludgeoned with a golf club. Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

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    But he was freed in 2013 on $1.2 million bail after a judge granted him a new trial based on claims that Skakel's trial lawyer, Michael Sherman, made a series of poor decisions in representing him. The judge found, in part, that Sherman failed to argue that Skakel's brother could have been responsible for the crime and failed to present a key alibi witness for Skakel.

    Sherman had defended his work. On Friday, Sherman told NBC Connecticut he believes that Skakel should have never been convicted. 

    During arguments before the state Supreme Court, prosecutor Susann Gill told the justices that Sherman did a competent job investigating and trying the case and that Skakel's appellate lawyers had not met the high burden under case law to prove ineffective counsel. She also stood by the state's position that there was "substantial" evidence that Michael Skakel killed Martha Moxley.

    Santos argued that Sherman made numerous poor decisions, including not focusing on Skakel's older brother, Thomas Skakel, as a possible suspect.

    Santos told the justices, "This defendant did not get a fair shake. The weight of the evidence is that Tommy Skakel killed Martha Moxley."

    Santos also said Michael Skakel had an alibi on the night of the killing at 10 p.m., the time that he said evidence shows Moxley was killed. He cited testimony that Michael Skakel and some relatives left the neighborhood at about 9:30 p.m. to go to his cousin's house 20 minutes away to watch a Monty Python movie.

    Santos also said there was no forensic or physical evidence linking Skakel to the killing.

    Thomas Skakel's attorney has previously said his client had nothing to do with the slaying.

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    Skakel's current attorneys said they had no comment.