Michael Skakel, whose conviction in the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley was vacated last month, was released from custody after a Connecticut judge granted the Kennedy relative bail at $1.2 million on Thursday. [UPDATED 11:29 a.m. PST, Nov. 21]
Skakel, 53, is the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Skakel has spent more than 11 years in prison as part of a sentence of 20 years to life in the murder case, set in the affluent Connecticut enclave of Greenwich.
His lawyer, Hubert Santos, said that Skakel was ready to post bail Thursday. Judge Gary White said that Skakel must remain in the state of Connecticut, submit to GPS monitoring and check in with a bail commissioner after being released.
Skakel, then 15, was convicted of using a golf club to bludgeon 15-year-old Moxley to death. But he and his family have always maintained his innocence. Last month, a judge ruled that Skakel's trial attorney, celebrity lawyer Mickey Sherman, failed to adequately represent Skakel in the 2002 trial.
Judge Thomas Bishop said Sherman failed to locate a witness who backed up Skakel's alibi that he was at his cousin's house the night of the murder and failed to find a man who challenged a star witness' claim that Skakel confessed. It was Bishop who ordered the verdict vacated and a new trial. The prosecution is appealing the ruling.
The decision to grant bail was not in doubt after a judge ruled in favor of Skakel, though the amount to be posted was subject to dispute. The prosecution did not oppose bail but sought a higher amount, $2 million. Santos argued that the bail should be lower for Skakel, who like all defendants is now considered innocent with the burden of proof on the prosecution.
Robert Kennedy Jr., who campaigned to overturn his cousin’s conviction, said this week that he felt “pure joy” that his cousin was expected to be released. Skakel has seen his son only a handful of times since he was sent to prison, Kennedy said.
“Everybody in my family knows that Michael is innocent,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “He was in jail for over a decade for a crime he didn't commit. The only crime that he committed was having a bad lawyer.”
The ruling for a new trial came after more than a decade of unsuccessful appeals by Skakel. The Moxley family has repeatedly insisted that Skakel was guilty.
“He ought to serve his punishment,” Dorthy Moxley, the victim's 81-year-old mother, said this week as the release was pending. “There's no doubt in my mind that he did it. A little justice for Martha is not asking a lot.”
The case remains a challenge because there is a lack of forensic evidence.