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Law

Skakel prosecutors urge conviction be upheld

By Lisa Sweetingham
Court TV

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Connecticut prosecutors have filed a 114-page brief in the murder case of Michael Skakel, responding to defense allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and other complaints the Kennedy cousin made in his effort to win a retrial.

Skakel, who is currently incarcerated in MacDougall Correctional Institution in Suffield, filed an appeal in November to the state Supreme Court, in which his attorneys argued, among many issues, that his case should never have been tried in adult court and that the prosecutor presented an improper closing argument.

Moreover, the defense argued, Skakel should never have been tried at all for the October 1975 murder of his neighbor because the statute of limitations had run out.

"This case should never have been charged or tried," Skakel's lawyers wrote in November. "The state charged the defendant with the crime of non-capital murder over 24 years after the alleged conduct and over 19 years beyond the statute of limitations."

But in their response filed in late June, prosecutors cited a 1976 amendment to the statute of limitations. "Connecticut has never recognized a time bar to the prosecution of murder," the brief reads.

Skakel, 43, is serving 20 years to life for the October 31, 1975, bludgeoning death of his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley. He was convicted in June 2002, 27 years after Moxley's body was found under a pine tree in the affluent Greenwich neighborhood where both teens lived.

Police found three pieces of a six-iron golf club -- the weapon used to strike Moxley four times in the head and then stab her though the neck -- and were able to show the club belonged to the Skakel family. But detectives failed to gather enough evidence to charge Skakel, until January 2000. By that time, Skakel had allegedly changed his account of where he was that evening, and according to some classmates, admitted to Moxley's killing.

Skakel, who was 39 at the time of arraignment, was initially charged in juvenile court because he was 15 when the murder took place. But prosecutors feared he would walk free if convicted, as the maximum penalty he could have received was four years in prison.

In their brief, prosecutors rehashed the same issue argued in a 2001 pretrial decision upheld by the court, which stated, "There is no available suitable state institution designed for the care and treatment of children to which the Juvenile Court could commit the now 40-year-old [Skakel]."

Skakel's attorneys also disapproved of prosecutor Jonathan Benedict's dramatic closing arguments, in which he used audio of Skakel's voice in combination with photos of a smiling Moxley and the crime scene. On the audio tape, Skakel talks about masturbating in a tree outside Martha's home the night she was killed.

"The state did not, as defendant claims, distort the evidence in any respect," prosecutors argued in their brief. "By placing certain exhibits next to defendant's words, or by displaying two related exhibits simultaneously, the state was making explicit the inferences it was asking the jury to draw. This is the job of an advocate."

Skakel's attorneys are expected to respond to the prosecutors' brief before making oral arguments, which will be scheduled when the Supreme Court resumes this fall.


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