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Ruling could free Skakel during appeal

Michael Skakel
Michael Skakel  

By John Springer
Court TV

(Court TV) -- Kennedy kin Michael Skakel, who faces up to life prison when he is sentenced August 28 for the 1975 murder of a 15-year-old Martha Moxley, could be set free pending appeal following a ruling Monday in an unrelated case.

Connecticut's Supreme Court struck down a state law that mandates the immediate incarceration of any person convicted of a an act of violence or the threat of violence. The justices concluded unanimously that the law was unconstitutional.

Monday's ruling essentially gives lawyers for Skakel, now 41, the right to argue that he should be released on bond while his conviction is appealed.

"I don't want to start second guessing what the impact will be, but obviously it's a positive," defense lawyer Mickey Sherman told on Tuesday. The Moxley family could not be reached for comment.

Complete coverage of the Skakel trial 

In addition to challenging several of Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr.'s rulings during the five-week trial, the defense plans to appeal a juvenile court judge's decision to transfer the case to adult court and a pre-trial ruling that the statute of limitations ran out in 1980. Following Skakel's conviction June 7, Kavanewsky denied Sherman's motion to release Skakel on bond pending his appeal.

Jurors who decided Skakel's case have said that his own statements since 1975 about the killing and their belief that relatives lied in an effort to give him an alibi led them to return a guilty verdict. Martha Moxley was beaten to death on October 30, 1975, with a golf club owned by Skakel's late mother.

Freedom for judges

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to the state's appeal of bail granted following the conviction last year of James McCahill, who raped a former girlfriend in 1999. The judge in that case set bail at $250,000 pending the outcome of an appeal after concluding that the law that took away his discretion was an unconstitutional intrusion by state lawmakers.

Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano agreed that the ruling restores the rights of judges to release violent or potentially violent offenders on bail between their convictions and appeals. He declined, however, to discuss the implications the ruling could have for Skakel.

"I can't respond to a motion that doesn't exist, even if I wanted to," said Morano, one of three prosecutors at Skakel's trial. "I'm sure they will file a motion and we will respond to it appropriately in court."

Out by 2008?

The issue of an appeal bail and a defense motion to set aside the verdict are expected to top the court's agenda on August 28.

Kavanewsky can sentence Skakel to a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison for the killing.

Because of 1975 laws that still apply to the 27-year-old case, Skakel will automatically be awarded enough credits to cut minimum number of years he must serve nearly in half.

The so-called "good-time credits" Skakel may be entitled to will be calculated by granting him 10 days off his sentence for good behavior per month for the first five years of his prison stay, and 15 days off per month for every year thereafter, according to Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction.

Martha Moxley
Martha Moxley  

If Kavanewsky gives Skakel the minimum of 10 years to life, he could be released in five years and nine months, or in April 2008, Garnett said.

If he gets a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, Skakel could be released sometime in late 2015 if he stays out of trouble while behind bars, Garnett said.

A longtime lawyer for the Skakel family believes that Michael Skakel, the fifth of Rushton and Ann Skakel's seven children and a nephew of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, may get the maximum sentence but he doesn't think it is fair.

"I think Kavanewsky is going to come down in a heavy-handed way. I hope I am wrong," said the lawyer, Emanuel Margolis of Stamford.

Margolis noted that if Skakel had been arrested and prosecuted in 1975 or 1976 when he was a teenager, there would have been a good chance that he would have been treated as a juvenile. Instead, however, police focused their early investigation on Skakel's older brother Thomas, the last one to be seen with Martha Moxley when she was alive.

Dorthy Moxley, now 70, has said that she and Martha's only sibling, John Moxley, hope that Skakel serves at least 27 years in prison. That is how long the family had to wait to get justice of Martha, Dorthy Moxley has said.




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