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”

  1. We’re to believe that a relative of the Kennedy Family – who has more lawyers than god – couldn’t find the best lawyer money could buy in a MURDER case? Smh…

  2. This ruling is absurd. The fact is that he got the best legal advice that money could buy. My guess is that he told his lawyer that he did the crime, and the fact is that I am sure he saw the investigative reports his father had done by a private investigator. So to criticize the attorney for not developing alternate theories or suspects, is to ask that attorney to perpetrate a fraud upon the court. The simple reason none were developed was that the attorney KNEW for a FACT that he was guilty. I am sure that this judge did not consider that or he is a good friend of the family or his class.

    Even Mark Furman who did an investigation concluded that he was the perp. Which brings up the OJ trial. Furman was the one reason OJ got off since his perjury could not be ignored, and the verdict was correct, even though most reasonable people agree OJ was guilty as hell. I have to agree with the jury verdict given Furman and Van Natters actions during the investigation. It seems this judge would only have been content with F Lee Bailey as the attorney who would have NO problem suborning perjury in defense of his client.

  3. With good P.R. and enough B.S. their always innocent. So let’em off so the victims family can dole out the justice.

  4. I followed the Skakel case back in 2002 and was shocked at the conviction. It seemed to me that there was insufficient evidence about the crime (just as there was in the 70’s).

    The difference it seemed to me was that Skakel was now a fat, ugly, old man and the victim was still a cute teenager.

    And, BTW, OJ was definitively innocent of the crime as described in his trial. If the glove don’t fit: you must acquit.

  5. Dredd, My mom was a CNN obsessive. She also thought that about the son of OJ. Mom was a lover of JFK and lifelong Dem, but being a critical thinker came to see just what a depraved family they are vis a vis booze and women. She thought Skakel was guilty. I loved my mom, and she was not well educated[GED @ age 45], but she was smart. I think she was wrong on OJ and right on Skakel.

    I followed the Skakel trial in the papers. Having grown up in Ct. and remembering the murder when it happened, it had some attraction. I normally don’t follow cases. I think he was good for the murder. But, I give the BIG caveat, I was not on the jury. Whether I agree w/ the jury or not, it’s their call. They saw, heard and studied[hopefully] all the evidence.

    Hopefully and OJ debate doesn’t erupt here. I will not contribute. God bless you if you think OJ was innocent. He was found not guilty. We agree on that. Basta on OJ.

  6. ((*_*)). Nick.
    I don’t know if he is innocent or guilty (well, in general terms he sure isn’t innocent) but the trial was a farce.
    (My sister, who was racist ironically, used to tan so dark every summer that she got to a dark, dark brown, almost black, with a purple hue.)

  7. 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.”
    One investigator says OJ’s son did it (O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It).

    Skakel thinks his brother did the killing in the instant case.

  8. leej, Absolutely! I don’t do emoticons, but in the future I’ll write, “wink, wink.”

  9. bfm, Great question. However, for a brutal murder committed by a juvenile, he would have almost certainly had a certification hearing in juvenile court where a judge would have turned the case over to adult criminal court. Unless maybe if this judge was on the juvenile bench @ the time.

  10. There are some folks here, well respected I might add, who believe OJ was “innocent.”

  11. It’s a shame the state can’t retry OJ Simpson because Judge Ito was so enamored of the media attention.

  12. This is a disturbing case from many perspectives.

    Yet one important issue would seem to be how should we treat offenders arraigned as adults for crimes committed as children.

    It is not clear, but I would guess that in the 1070’s, Shakel would have been tried as a juvenile. If so, his penalty would likely have been minimal under the assumption that children are less able to understand and control their acts than adults.

    Shakel was tried as an adult and received an adults punishment.

    If you believe children should be treated differently then why should the age of prosecution make any difference in regard to punishment

  13. I’m sorry I find it hard to believe the Kennedy clan did not make sure that good counsel was there for the trial. This stinks almost as bad as Teddy Kennedy getting away with negligent homicide when he killed his mistress by driving drunk into the canal. How many other people sit in jail because their counsel was inadequate? My guess is a vast majority of those with no money and a public defender would like to make the same accusation but lack the resources of Shakel. I need a lot more convincing that an error in justice has been committed here than the comments I’ve seen so far.

  14. An appeal by the state is to follow. Meanwhile Skakel may be granted bail. If there is a new trial it will be way different. No cops on the jury this time.

  15. There is a case out of Missouri which would be a good example for a criminal procedure case law book on the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel. Ervin v. State of Missouri, ED Court of Appeals. The defendant was charged with receiving stolen property of a value over $500.00. The stolen property was 17 bottles of liquor seized from his home. The state provided a list of the bottles together with a price value for each bottle of Jack Daniels etc. The defense counsel had the list but did not look at it and do the math. The numbers added up to three hundred dollars if you added in the co defendants stash as well. The defense counsel did not share the discovery list with defendant and he pled guilt to the felony. Probation was granted. Later he violated probation and went to prison on this charge alone.
    The Missouri Court, as usual, analyzes cases under their own version of constitutional jurisprudence. By this I mean, they cite one U.S. Supreme Court case (Strickland) and then go on from there with their own citation of cases. They fail to consider this as a sufficiency of the evidence case although this is the core of the case as one gets to the next issue in line of whether the schmuck lawyer did the addition to see if the statutory element of the offense of receiving over $500.00 of stolen property was met.
    That criticism being said, the Court of Appeals set aside the conviction on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to add, and remanded the case to he trial court in Palmyra. Inmates at the prison chipped in and sent the defense counsel lady a calculator and reading glasses.
    This case can be found on Missouri Bar Esquire this week. Vandyne Ervin v. State of Missouri, ED of Mo.
    Law professors need this case to teach, not preach, the ethics and aspects of being a competent, effective, calculating lawyer.

  16. Well… The clown should be happy that Thomas and the Italian Stallion didn’t decide this matter….. As crazy as this sounds… Some attorneys go straight for the publicity….

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