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Skakel gets 20 years to life

Kennedy family member maintains his innocence

Skakel leaves the Connecticut courtroom Thursday.
Skakel leaves the Connecticut courtroom Thursday.  

NORWALK, Connecticut (CNN) -- A judge sentenced Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel to 20 years to life in prison Thursday for the 1975 killing of his teen-age neighbor.

Skakel tearfully insisted he is innocent at Thursday's sentencing. "I have been accused of a crime. I would love to be able to say that I did it, but I cannot do that," he said.

Skakel, 41, was convicted in June of murder in the October 30, 1975, killing of Martha Moxley, when both were 15. Under sentencing guidelines in force at the time Moxley was killed, Skakel will be eligible for parole in April 2013, prosecutors said.

Before sentencing, Skakel shuffled to the front of the courtroom in leg irons to offer a tearful statement laced with religious references. He said he prays for the Moxley family every day -- but said he did not kill Moxley.

"I ask God every day why I'm here," Skakel told the judge. "I say, 'Lord, I've done everything you wanted me to do -- why am I here?' "

Michael Skakel receives a 20-years-to-life sentence in the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley. CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports (August 29)

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Timeline: Michael Skakel trial 
Court Kennedy cousin on trial 
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Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the widow of assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. His lawyers presented Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. with dozens of letters from relatives and friends seeking leniency. Some, such as Skakel's cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., described how Skakel -- a former alcoholic himself -- helped Kennedy get sober.

In handing down the sentence, Kavanewsky said he had taken into account Skakel's age at the time of the killing, his work counseling others and a dysfunctional upbringing. But he noted Moxley's death "was not only violent but vicious," and said Skakel "has been living a lie about his guilt. This defendant has accepted no responsibility, no personal remorse."

Moxley's mother, Dorthy Moxley, and brother, John Moxley, had asked Kavanewsky to impose the maximum prison term of 25 years to life. Dorthy Moxley said the sentence imposed Thursday "seems reasonable," and John Moxley said the family will mark the day in the future with no special pleasure.

"There's no such thing as fair here," he said. "There's no celebration. There's no party to go to. There's no special treat. "

John Moxley said Skakel's final statement was "too little, too late," and dismissed his invocation of his religious beliefs. (More on the Moxleys' reaction)

"Everybody in jail and foxholes has religion," John Moxley said. "I think part of being a good Catholic is confessing to your sins, not running from them."

Martha Moxley
Martha Moxley  

Skakel's lawyer, Mickey Sherman, said the tone of his client's statement was not surprising.

"It wasn't done gratuitously, and he certainly didn't try and appear Christ-like," Sherman said. "All he was doing is just explaining to the judge his deep feelings for his Catholic faith, and last I checked that's not even a misdemeanor."

Skakel's attorneys have said they will appeal the conviction.

On Wednesday, Kavanewsky denied a motion to overturn Skakel's conviction and order a new trial. Skakel's attorneys argued that prosecutors withheld evidence during the trial -- including a composite sketch of a possible suspect drawn up in the days after the killing.

Prosecutors argued that the drawing would not have cleared Skakel, since the sketch was of a man investigators had questioned and ruled out as a suspect.

Thursday's sentencing drew to a close a murder case more than a quarter century old. As the case continued to go unsolved, speculation grew that wealth, privilege and the Kennedy connection had protected the Skakel family.

Attention turned to Michael Skakel in the early 1990s, when he gave new details of his activities the night of the murder to a private investigator hired by the Skakel family.

Skakel was arrested in 2000 after an investigation by a one-judge grand jury. He declared his innocence and fought to have the case heard in juvenile court, only to have a judge rule the state had no juvenile facility in which to lock up a middle-aged man. The case was transferred to adult court in January 2001.




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