Skakel's attorney asks for new trial
By Lindsey Faber - Greenwich Time
STAMFORD -- The jury that last week convicted Michael Skakel of murdering Martha Moxley was influenced unfairly by gruesome photos of Moxley that were shown on a screen during an audio playback of Skakel's taped voice, Skakel's lawyer argued in post-trial motions filed yesterday.
Citing that claim and 18 other errors allegedly committed by the court during Skakel's trial, attorney Michael Sherman said the guilty verdict should be dropped and a new trial held.
"Like the trial proceedings themselves, the verdict was unduly influenced by passion and prejudice," Sherman wrote in the motion. "It was a case in which the prosecution sought maximum dramatic effect, dazzling the jury not with reliable evidence, but with high-tech graphics and conscience-shocking audio-visual juxtapositions."
Sherman filed three motions in state Superior Court in Stamford yesterday, signaling the onset of the appellate process, which will begin formally in an appellate court soon after Skakel's July 19 sentencing.
Sherman filed a motion for a new trial, a motion to set aside the verdict and a motion for judgment of acquittal on behalf of his client, who is incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institute in Newtown.
After the sentencing, Sherman is expected to appeal the transfer of the case from juvenile court to adult court and may also challenge the court's decision to try Skakel despite a five-year statute of limitations in effect in 1975.
Skakel was convicted Friday of murdering Moxley with a golf club in October 1975. Moxley was found on Halloween in her family's Belle Haven yard, her body badly beaten. Both Skakel and Moxley were 15 at the time.
During closing arguments last week, prosecutors showed a smiling photo of Moxley on an overhead screen and used remote control technology to dissolve the photo into a gruesome image of Moxley's mangled body. They showed the photos as they played audio excerpts of Skakel's voice speaking in 1997 to a ghostwriter with whom he was collaborating on a book project about life as a Kennedy cousin. The book was never written.
Sherman said the taped interview with the author was hearsay and should not have been admitted. He also said allegations that Skakel's father confided in a family friend that Skakel was involved in the murder should not have been admitted because it involved "triple hearsay."
He added that prosecutors unfairly put the entire Skakel family on trial when they alleged a Skakel family cover-up of the crime.
"Perhaps the most intense form of partiality and prejudice, however, were verbal -- the prosecutor's unveiled suggestions that members of the defendant's family were, in effect, unindicted co-conspirators, or accessories after the fact, in the death of Martha Moxley," the motion read.
Deputy Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano said Sherman's motions would not result in a new trial.
"Many of the issues he raised in the motions were raised at the time of trial and have already been ruled on by the court," Morano said. "And everything we used during final arguments was evidence we presented at the trial. We feel secure in the court's rulings."
Skakel's lawyers also argued against Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr.'s decision to allow the introduction of the pretrial testimony of former Elan School student Gregory Coleman, who died last year of a heroin overdose. Coleman said Skakel confessed to the crime and bragged he would get away with it because he was a Kennedy.
Skakel is the nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
The defense objected to Kavanewsky's charge to the jury. In his charge, Kavanewsky "highlighted" the state's case and "diminished" the defense's case, Sherman argued in the motions.
Kavanewsky specifically instructed the jury that it could consider Skakel's consciousness of guilt, a victory for the prosecution, which had alleged throughout the trial that Skakel showed such a consciousness by changing his alibi.
Sherman argued during trial the judge's instruction was unnecessary, but Kavanewsky said there was ample room in the law for the instruction.
Finally, the defense argued in the motions, as it did during the trial, that one juror should have been removed from the case after he was heard saying that Skakel had mouthed the words "good job" to his cousin while his cousin was on the witness stand. The judge ruled the juror, H. William Smith, could stay on the case.
"The jury panel was thereafter corrupted by Smith's continued presence thereon," Sherman wrote.
The evidence presented by the state did not reasonably conclude Skakel could be guilty, Sherman said.
Skakel faces from 10 years to life in prison when he is sentenced July 19 in state Superior Court in Norwalk.