Michael Skakel leaves Connecticut Supreme Court after a hearing in 2016. The court issued a 4-3 ruling on Friday overturning his 2002 murder conviction. (Jessica Hill/AP)
The Connecticut Supreme Court overturned Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel’s conviction in the 1975 murder of his neighbor on Friday, just one year after reinstating it, a head-turning reversal on a case that has drawn headlines for years.
Skakel, who is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, was convicted in 2002 for the killing of his neighbor, Martha Moxley, when they were both teenagers in Greenwich, Conn., by bludgeoning her to death with a golf club. He was originally given a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned by a lower court in 2013 and then reinstated in 2016 by the same court that overturned his conviction this week.
The difference appeared to come down to one judge, who had voted to reinstate the conviction, and was replaced by another who did not. The justices voted 4-3 to overturn Skakel’s conviction after his lawyer, Hubert Santos, found that Skakel’s trial attorney in the original case, Mickey Sherman, did not present evidence of an alibi, according to the Associated Press.
Santos had asked the court to reconsider the 2016 decision.
Whether Skakel will face a new trial on the more than 40-year-old case is unclear. The chief state’s attorney, Kevin Kane, told the AP through a spokesman that the office was reviewing the ruling.
The case has long drawn attention for its lurid details — Moxley is believed to have been bludgeoned to death with a golf club — as well as for its connection to the Kennedys and the exclusive Bell Haven section of Greenwich where Skakel and Martha Moxley were neighbors. The case’s many twists and turns have kept it in the headlines for years.
Skakel’s cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a former prosecutor, has been one of his more vocal and high-profile defenders, releasing a book in 2016 titled “Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit.”
“We’re elated that our argument was vindicated,” Santos said. “It was a good decision because it was spot on the law.”
The lawyer, who said that Skakel was several miles away from the crime scene watching a Monty Python movie with friends, had argued that Sherman had neglected to get in touch with an alibi witness.
Sherman has defended his work but was not reached for comment, the AP reported.
The Supreme Court included the same justices who had voted to reinstate Skakel’s conviction in 2016, except for one, and that perhaps proved to be decisive. Justice Peter Zarella, who wrote the majority opinion for the conviction’s reinistatement, left the court at the end of that year. Justice Gregory D’Auria, who was named to the court last year, voted with the majority’s decision to overturn on Friday.
John Moxley, the victim’s brother, told the Associated Press that he was disappointed with the ruling.
“I don’t know what the next steps are,” Moxley, 59 said. “My mom is getting older. I just don’t think she has the strength to go on with this.”
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