A day after a new trial was ordered for Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin serving time in the 1975 slaying of a Greenwich, Conn., neighbor, his effort to win release from prison is on hold.
A judge said on Thursday that even though the guilty verdict was overturned, it is on hold and has not yet gone into effect. This means Skakel may not have the right to seek bail, Judge Thomas Bishop wrote in an email to Skakel's attorneys.
Skakel's current attorney, Hubert Santos, filed a motion for bail on Thursday, asking that Skakel be released on bond and that the amount not exceed $500,000.
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Skakel's conviction was set aside on Wednesday by Bishop, who ruled that Skakel's trial attorney failed to adequately represent him when he was found guilty in 2002. Bridgeport State's Attorney John Smriga said prosecutors will appeal the decision and intend to object to the request for bond.
"We're very, very thrilled," Santos said. "I always felt that Michael was innocent."
Skakel argued that his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, was negligent in defending him when he was convicted in the golf club bludgeoning of Martha Moxley when they were 15 in wealthy Greenwich.
Prosecutors contended Sherman's efforts far exceeded standards and that the verdict was based on compelling evidence against Skakel.
"Attorney Michael Sherman devoted four years and thousands of hours to Skakel’s defense. His preparation included countless hours seeking out and interviewing witnesses, consulting with experts, researching legal issues, reviewing the enormous amount of discovery provided by the state, and using legal means to block the state’s access to incriminating evidence. He prosecuted two pre-trial appeals. Attorney Sherman used his judgment, developed over his more than three decades as a criminal defense attorney, to make strategic decisions," a statement from John Smriga, State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Fairfield, said in a statement.
John Moxley, the victim's brother, said the ruling took him and his family by surprise and they hope the state wins an appeal.
"Having been in the courtroom during the trial, there were a lot of things that Mickey Sherman did very cleverly," Moxley said. "But the evidence was against him. And when the evidence is against you, there's almost nothing you can do."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of Skakel's who has long insisted Skakel did not commit the crime, said on NBC's "Today" show on Thursday that the ruling was correct.
"His one crime was that he had a very, very poor representation," he said. "If he gets another trial, he's got good lawyers now and there's no way in the world that he will be convicted."
In his ruling, the judge wrote that defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense.
"Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense," Bishop wrote. "As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."
Among other issues, the judge wrote that the defense could have focused more on Skakel's brother, Thomas, who was an early suspect in the case because he was the last person seen with Martha Moxley. Had Sherman done so, "there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different," the judge wrote.
During a state trial in April on the appeal, Skakel took the stand and blasted Sherman's handling of the case, portraying him as an overly confident lawyer having fun and basking in the limelight while making fundamental mistakes from poor jury picks to failing to track down key witnesses.
Sherman has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel's conviction and denied he was distracted by media attention in the high-profile case.
Prosecutors said Sherman spent thousands of hours preparing the defense, challenged the state on large and small legal issues, consulted experts and was assisted by some of the state's top lawyers. Sherman attacked the state's evidence, presented an alibi and pointed the finger at an earlier suspect, prosecutors said.
"This strategy failed not because of any fault of Sherman's, but because of the strength of the state's case," prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in court papers.
Skakel, who maintains his innocence, was denied parole last year and was told he would not be eligible again to be considered for release for five years.
"The petitioner should not be made to continue to serve a sentence for a conviction that has been vacated by this Court as it has been found unconstitutional," the motion from Santos says.