Michael Skakel Granted New Trial Due To Ineffective Counsel

skakelmugKennedy family member Michael Skakel has long sought a new trial in the killing of Martha Moxley, a neighbor bludgeoned to death by a golf club in 1975. In a surprise ruling, Judge Thomas Bishop found that Skakel was denied a fair trial due to ineffective counsel. Bishop’s opinion slams Skakel’s original legal counsel, Michael Sherman, as failing basic expectations of a lawyer and suggests, as the family has argued, that he was obsessed or blinded by the media attention in the case.

220px-MarthaMoxleySkakel is the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy and is serving 20 years to life after his 2002 conviction. He was a troubled boy with an alcohol problem before the murder. Prosecutors insisted that he was jealous with the attention shown by Moxley for his brother. The ruling comes near the anniversary of her death. On the evening of October 30, 1975, Martha Moxley went to a Halloween party where she was seen kissing Thomas Skakel, Michael’s brother. Her body was later found underneath a tree in her family’s backyard with her trousers and underwear were pulled down. She had been both beaten and stabbed with a broken six-iron golf club were found near the body. It was not until 2000 however that he was indicted.

This is a huge victory for his current attorney, Hubert Santos, because ineffective counsel claims are notoriously difficult to make under current standards.

Thomas found that Sherman failed to take rudimentary steps in the investigation of alternative culprits and key witnesses: “Trial counsel’s failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense. As a consequence of trial counsel’s failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability.”

In April, Skakel blasted Sherman in testimony, describing failures of Sherman in developing a defense. Santos added that Sherman was “too enamored with the media attention to focus on the defense” and described a statement made by Sherman at a seminar in Las Vegas six months before the trial that one of his goals in representing Skakel was to have a “good time.” Santos told the court that

“Defending a murder charge is not about enjoying oneself, it is about zealously advocating for the client and providing him with the assistance guaranteed by our constitution. It is not about getting invited to A-list parties in New York City, or launch parties for the trendy new television show, or going to the Academy Awards and all the `cool parties’ afterwards.”

Sherman was often called upon as a television legal commentator in high-profile cases. He is married to Fox News legal analyst and author Lis Wiehl. Wiehl indicated that they may have separated. Sherman has previously been charged with ethics violations. In May 2007, Sherman admitted that he violated two rules of professional conduct and was reprimanded by the Statewide Grievance Committee. Worse yet, on June 30, 2010, Sherman pled guilty two counts of willfully failing to pay federal income taxes for tax years 2001 and 2002, in the amount of $390,000 in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. He went to jail in 2011.

The 136-page decision details angles and leads that were not pursued by Sherman, even though the prosecutors insisted that it was the evidence, not the lawyer, that led to conviction. Bishop concluded that

“As a consequence of trial counsel’s failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability. Though defense counsel’s errors of judgment and execution are not the fault of the state, a defendant’s constitutional right to adequate representation cannot be overshadowed by the inconvenience and financial and emotional cost of a new trial. To conclude otherwise would be to elevate expediency over the constitutional rights we cherish.”

Source: Courant

41 thoughts on “Michael Skakel Granted New Trial Due To Ineffective Counsel”

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  2. “You wingers are a real piece of work.”

    True, and that particular one is here every five minutes. proving his arrogance and demonstrating his belief that his own character is a collector’s item.

    William Dear has made a compelling, evidence-based case that O.J. was guilty — but not of murder.

  3. Dredd, Understood. But “shadow” does not belong in defining the criminal burden of proof. The burden is, “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” “Shadow” changes that.

  4. DNA on a golf club back in 1975 or whenever? If I handle a golf club my dna will be on it. It does not mean that I was the one who swung my golf club and killed someone with it. Sufficiency of The Evidence is THE fundamental grounding of every appellate review of a court conviction. The ineffective assistance of counsel examination by an appellate court goes hand in hand with it. For example. In the case out of Mizzoura where the counsel did not add up the value of the 17 bottles of rum which the defendant was charged with felony possession of stolen property, the essential element of value was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The lawyer overlooked it. The case could have been set aside on a Sufficiency of the Evidence evaluation by the Mo Court of Appeals Eastern District. But, it was just as easy to say that the legal counsel for the defendant failed to do the math, that the facts of the case did not add up. This is the Ervin v. State of Mo case mentioned yesterday on this blog.
    Sufficiency of the Evidence is the most important Constitutional analysis yet promulgated by the Supreme Court of the United States. See Jackson v. Virginia and United States v. Timothy Leary, concurring opinion of Hugo Black. States that ignore the doctrine or federal jurisprudence, such as Mizzoura, do so because they abhor the 14th Amendment and have been Unreconstructed since it was passed by Congress and ratified by the States. Several MoSupCt judges were kicked off the bench because they would not pledge allegiance back then. The Show Me State does not follow federal jurisprudence on Sufficiency of the Evidence. They adopted the “I know it when I see it” approach laid out in State v. Samuel Freeman in 2008.

    The present Supreme Court of the United States probably would not sign off on Jackson v. Virginia today. They might not set it aside and might regard it as precedent, but our Court today is a dangerous collection.

  5. nick spinelli 1, October 24, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    “Beyond a REASONABLE doubt is the standard, not “shadow of a doubt.” Learning that just now, do you still find Skakel not guilty?
    Actually, the statement was “the question is whether it was proved beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt” which is acceptable English.

  6. oh and the killers name is glen rogers….. for those who truly want to know the truth. and not those who still want to believe the bs…

    you like many others are ignoring and attempting to deny the fact that the real killer of nicole brown and ronald goldman HAS BEEN CAUGHT AND CONVICTED!!! he admiitted it and the proof was seen worldwide though no one knew it then thanks the lame stream media also ignoring and denying it.. but so you can be educated>> i posted just one link. there are many others and the story has also been told on the channel investigation discovery…. the mans mother even wore nicoles broach while going to court for his trial in another case. it was his confession to his brother that made it noteworthy.. even though after he confessed he attempted to claim that O.J hired him. there was never any evidence found. so ).J is sitting in jail. because the elites thought he was getting to uppity. much the same way michael jackson broke away from them.. told his story in artciles and videos which are posted on the net.. i suggest you start with youtube for both stories…


    now back to the real story
    i love the way everyone is forgetting or maybe i also have alzheimers along with the cancer but in any case i love the way everyone is ignoring, denying the fact that when they did the dna testing it was this losers dna on the golf club. and when confronted he confessed. but then retracted it when he sobered up… but hey seeing as how some people not mentioning any names still believe o.j is guilty, that michael jackson was a pedophile, meaning they believe the lies fed to them their whole lives even though the truth is now out there and available all over the internet. and they damn well know it.

    1. I didn’t call you names, “abundantly ignorant”. I would hope you would give me the same courtesy. People can disagree and do so with civility.
      In addition at no time did I write I thought OJ was guilty. (or not)

  8. As Prof. Turley suggests in his article, it is very difficult for a new trial to be granted on ineffective counsel claims so the court had to be convinced that Skakel’s attorney screwed up big time.
    the attorney has to do the best job he or she can to make sure the client gets the best legal defense possible. To make sure that the state proves its case. If that defense attorney is merely going through the motions, the defendant’s defense will suffer and the whole system suffers. Most of the time the attorney doesn’t know for sure if the client is guilty. The lawyer argues with the evidence he or she has and attacks the validity and veracity of the states evidence. The jury will do the rest.

  9. Obama sent Caroline Kennedy over to Japan. I am wondering if he could send all of them over there. For ever. I am a Dog Democrat but I have no tolerance for that Klan of Irish bootlegger offspring. Johnboy this, and Bobby that, and Jackie did this. Yuk.

  10. I didn’t learn that just now, wise-a**. That is a traditional formulation, and means the same thing. There is no implication of slightness in this usage of the word “shadow”. Its sense is more like “penumbra”.

    You wingers are a real piece of work.

  11. “Beyond a REASONABLE doubt is the standard, not “shadow of a doubt.” Learning that just now, do you still find Skakel not guilty?

    1. @Nick Spinelli “We spend more money on education per student than any other country and get horrible results. More money is not the answer.”

      Actually I am not sure that statement stands up to scrutiny.

      Funds for schools are largely local. That means that rich neighborhoods have well funded schools. You can’t tell me that schools in Montgomery county, MD and Fairfax county VA don’t do a pretty good job. University demonstration schools do a pretty good job too. University of Chicago has a pretty good school and even Peabody Dem School does a pretty good job. And there are neighborhoods where private schools are in such demand that tuition is rising much faster than the cost of living – demand for education tells us that money gets results in education, and the results are worth it.

      So there are three different kinds of examples that tell us that money spent on education is effective.

      I would argue the results look bad on average in part because there are lots of neighborhoods with underfunded schools that must educate children from families with many other social problems.

      Money spent in the class room is less effective when entire neighborhoods struggle with significant social problems – substance abuse, broken families and all the problems that come with that, values that minimize the benefit of education.

      I don’t have the data to prove my point, but I would bet that more money applied, even in the most troubled neighborhoods, leads to better outcomes.

      The problems of education are complex. And you are right that money by itself is not sufficient.

      But money is necessary and less money is not going to make matters better.

      In conclusion, I am arguing that your observation that we spend a lot and don’t get much for it is based on an overall average that obscures the great differences in spending and results in different neighborhoods.

  12. I agree with Dan.

    I paid close attention to the trial at the time, and was shocked to see a conviction based on the testimony of prosecution-coached jailhouse snitches who traded their testimony for sentencing relief.

    Skakel might well have killed Moxley; only he knows this for sure. I certainly don’t know, and don’t really care; the question is whether it was proved beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt. It was not.

    @randyjet: you really show your true colors by bringing up the vile, racist POS Mark Furman. Furman was just glory-hunting and trying to salvage his reputation.

    The reversal is correct, on the merits, in my judgment. Guilty or not, Skakel will, and probably should, walk this time, unless the state can come up with actual evidence to convict him.

    1. I guess that Berry did not pay close attention to the trial since there were NO jailhouse snitches at all. That he missed such simple things shows his obvious bias and hero worship of all things Kennedy. So it is no surprise that he could not even get the gist of my comments on Furman and the fact that he was so corrupt that he cost the state a guilty verdict against OJ. The only thing the OJ trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that LA detectives are grossly overpaid. So how any sensible person could think I would praise Furman is beyond belief. The point I made using him was to show that most books and others who have studied the case far more than I or most folks here, have concluded that Skakel is guilty.

      As for the judges ruling, it is absurd to think that a rich family with lots of lawyers on tap would not know that the lawyer is failing to do his job. That is simply silly. Since this a presumably a legal blog, I raised a question for those who are lawyers. If your client admits their guilt, what do you do in their defense and how far can one legally and ethically go to keep them out of prison? My thought about the failure of the lawyer to raise other suspects and cast doubt about the guilt of the defendant may be tied to the fact that the lawyer knew he was guilty of the charges. Can the lawyer ethically try and convince a jury of the guilt of an innocent person as an alternate suspect?

  13. The Kennedy family, beginning with the guy who held Chamberlain’s umbrella, is rife with bad gene pool. Or stool.

  14. Ter ber, If the Kennedy family didn’t care what happened to their loser men, the family would have no men left!

  15. Could it be the family did not want the best defense for their loser son? Maybe they felt safer when he was convicted. Interesting.

  16. I always have concerns with convictions related to decades old crimes which rely heavily on incriminatory statements supposedly made years before. I also have an issue with the prosecution using a media presentation which can create a strong emotional connection between the defendant and the crime which may not actually be warranted by the evidence. (Here, I understand the prosecution created a presentation which superimposed words attributed to the defendant over graphic photographs of the decedent.) In looking at the materials, it appears that the transfer from juvenile court was based solely on the fact that there were no services which could be provided to the defendant in the juvenile setting. It did not relate to the facts of the crime or specifics about the accused at the time of the crime.

  17. nick spinelli 1, October 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

    There are some folks here, well respected I might add, who believe OJ was “innocent.”
    nick spinelli 1, October 24, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Hopefully and OJ debate doesn’t erupt here. I will not contribute.
    Says the ball burster eruptor. 😉

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