Part III: Defense Seeks New Trial

Making A Case For Murder

To Robert Kennedy Jr., the conviction of Michael Skakel was a miscarriage of justice: “This was the easiest case in the world to win. Reasonable doubt was all over the place.”
But it turns out that Tony Bryant's story was known even before the trial began.

Remember Crawford Mills? He says he first took the information to the prosecutor's office and Michael Skakel's trial attorney just before the trial.

"The prosecutor told him to get lost," says Kennedy. "They weren't interested in pursuing the new evidence."

Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict declined to talk about the new developments. But he told 48 Hours in April that he thought the trial was fair and appropriate. He also said that Kennedy’s article was wrong on all fronts – especially his attack on Littleton.

“He’s been diagnosed with having bipolar disorder,” adds Gene Riccio, Littleton’s attorney. “He’s had a number of hospitalizations. He’s a nice man who’s troubled and had a great deal of difficulty in his life ... I think arguments made that Mr. Littleton is responsible for this homicide are ridiculous.”
Michael Skakel’s murder trial began on May 7, 2002. Benedict immediately went after Skakel’s alibi, which put him at his cousin’s house eight miles away at the time of the murder. For years, this alibi had never been in dispute, but Benedict began tearing it down by questioning a Skakel family friend - Andrea Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was one of the witnesses from the neighborhood on the night of the murder who was certain that Skakel never took that alibi ride. In her testimony, when asked if Michael had gone to his cousin’s that night, she replied he did not.

Benedict continued to attack Michael’s alibi – this time, using Michael’s own brother, John.

“He was considered to be the most credible alibi witness for Michael Skakel,” says Benedict. “But a funny thing happened over the years. When John came before the grand jury, he changed his story to this - he really didn’t have any recall of who went to the Terrians' house and who didn’t.”

Benedict may have succeeded in discrediting the alibi, but ultimately, he says Michael did himself in.

“The truth of the matter is that Michael Skakel couldn’t keep his mouth shut for a quarter of a century,” says Benedict, referring to those Elan students and others that Michael supposedly confessed to over the years.

“We presented 13 separate people who had separate conversations in separate venues with Michael Skakel, all of which were either out-and-out confessions or at least incriminating admissions by him. That’s how you try a circumstantial case. You put a bunch of facts together.”

But what Sherman failed to anticipate was the impact of Benedict’s closing argument.

“I don’t know if the Skakel family realized how many persuasive dots I had to connect,” says Benedict.

Up until that point, both sides thought Michael might be acquitted. “There were days when I thought ‘Oh, this is just never going to happen. This is just looking very bleak.’”

Benedict played a critical passage from Michael’s own book proposal to sum up his case. But the passage he used was edited in such a way that what the jury heard appeared to be a confession to murder: “And I woke up to Mrs. Moxley saying ‘Michael, have you seen Martha?’ I was like ‘Oh, my God! Did they see me last night?’ I just remember having a feeling of panic'."
But here is what Benedict intentionally left out: “And I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God! I hope nobody saw me jerking off.' And I woke up to Mrs. Moxley saying, 'Michael, have you seen Martha?' I was like, 'Oh, my God! Did they see me last night?'"

In August 2002, Michael Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life for the murder.

Jeanine Pirro, a former judge and now New York's Westchester County district attorney, believes the chances of getting a new trial may be very good.
But she also says, "You have to look with some skepticism at a claim of knowing who the murderers are in a case where the people have agonized for almost three decades, and wonder what it is that brings you now to the public arena. Why did you not report this?"

There's also the question about Tony Bryant's criminal past - and other hurdles for the defense team. "This is all about weighing that delicate balance," says Pirro. "Do we open up the trial if we don't think there's any possibility of the verdict being changed?"

That's the dilemma the judge who presided over Skakel's original trial will soon face. "It's not beyond the realm of possibility for the DA to say we are going to look at this again," says Pirro. "No one wants someone who is innocent, wrongly convicted."
Dorthy Moxley’s only daughter, Martha, would have turned 43 this year. “It doesn’t end. It really doesn’t end," she says. "Once you’re a victim, being a victim is just part of you forever.”

And while Bobby Kennedy understands her loss, he is steadfast: “I know he’s innocent. I know he’s innocent.”

“A skillful prosecutor can often put people in jail who are not guilty of a crime, and this occurs most often in cases involving notorious crimes or heinous crimes.”

At the same time, Skakel's attorneys are trying for a new trial. They continue to appeal his conviction. Among their claims: Michael should not have been tried as an adult for a crime committed when he was 15.

And, they also argue that Benedict’s multimedia closing argument deliberately misrepresented facts. The appeal will be heard this fall. Meanwhile, Michael’s family visits him regularly.

“He’s had a rough time in prison,” says Kennedy, who says the stress of prison is obvious. “I think the prison administration has given him a very hard time. He’s lost his teeth and he’s been told by the prison administration that he won’t be able to see a dentist for at least six months.”

As for the Skakels, they say this ordeal has actually made their family stronger.

“The positives are that we’re a lot closer together as siblings,” says John.

“What keeps me going is the hope that we’re going to get him out of jail back with his son,” says Stephen. “And not only clear his name, but all of our names.”

“It’s out there now,” says Kennedy. “I’ve done everything that I can do to tell the truth. And the result ultimately is in God’s hands, like everything else in life.”
Michael Skakel's attorney, Hope Seeley, tells 48 Hours that she plans to file her motion for a new trial by the end of September.

Right now, Skakel's murder sentence runs until 2022 - with his first chance of parole at least 10 years away.

Skakel's wife has divorced him and she has custody of their 4-year-old son, George.

As for the Moxley family, Dorthy says she'd rather not talk about these latest developments until the motion for a new trial has been filed. But she says it's not the first time Skakel's lawyers have pointed the fingers at other suspects.

Exclusive: Ghosts Of Greenwich

Part II: New Information In Case
  • Rebecca Leung

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