UP THE RIVER:
Killer Skakel's sentence: 20 to life
By Maggie Mulvihill - Boston Herold

NORWALK, CONN. - A grim-faced Connecticut judge rejected convicted killer Michael Skakel's sobbing pleas for mercy yesterday and handed him a prison sentence of 20 years to life for the ``especially vicious'' murder of Martha Moxley.

In a stern and low voice, Judge John F. Kavanewsky also expressed his personal opinion of Skakel, who was convicted June 7 of slaying his teenage neighbor in a jealous rage nearly 27 years ago.

``The defendant has incurred a deep, deep debt to the state and its people by committing this crime,'' Kavanewsky said, his eyes trained steadily on the 41-year-old Skakel sitting just a few feet away.

Calling the bludgeoning death of Moxley ``not only violent . . . but especially vicious,'' Kavanewsky said, ``I won't claim to know for certain what prompted or caused the defendant to kill Martha Moxley, but by the verdict delivered I do know that for the last 25 years or more, a period well into his adult life, the defendant has been living a lie about his guilt.'' ``Most important, this defendant has accepted no responsibility. He has expressed no personal remorse to the present day.''

Skakel's family and friends cried quietly as Kavanewsky announced his decision. Skakel will not be eligible to apply for parole until 2013 at the earliest, prosecutors said after the sentencing. Kavanewsky was clearly unmoved by the weeping Skakel's startling remarks to him just moments earlier in which he begged for leniency.

In a voice wracked with sobs, Skakel compared himself to a suffering Jesus Christ, and took nasty swipes at his ex-wife Margot Sheridan, the prosecution team, his elderly father and former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman.

Skakel also asked Kavanewsky to have ``mercy'' on his toddler son, George Henry Skakel, and told the judge he prayed for him. At one point, Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, turned to the Moxley family and again reiterated his innocence.

``I would love to be able to say I did this crime so the Moxley family could have rest and peace, but I can't, your Honor. To do that would be a lie in front of my God who I am going to be in front of for eternity. And his laws tell me I cannot bear false witness against anybody or myself,'' Skakel said.

He never mentioned Martha Moxley.

In a jab at lead prosecutor Jonathan Benedict, who during his sentencing argument pointed to Skakel's spotty work record in jobs mostly arranged by his wealthy relatives, Skakel compared himself to Jesus Christ, one of three such comparisons he made.

``And as far as a job is concerned, I mean, what did Jesus Christ do? He walked around the world telling people that he loved them. Should he go to prison for that? Was he a bad person for that?'' Skakel asked.

Moments later, in describing an Easter 2001 conversation in which his young son asked him if only ``bad men go to prison.'' Skakel said he told the youngster, ``The best kid that ever came to this place in the whole world was God's child and they put him in prison.''

``I couldn't tell him what this world did to him. And as I stand here before you today with my life in your hands and the good Lord tells me to tell you that in 2,000 years this place hasn't changed a bit, that you still want to let Barabbas go,'' Skakel said, referring to the religious tale in which authorities freed a notorious thief, Barabbas, from prison instead of Christ.

That Halloween Eve, 1975, Moxley, then 15, went out with her neighborhood friends, including her neighbors in exclusive Greenwich, Conn., the Skakel brothers. The next day, her blood-smeared body was found face down, her jeans and panties jerked below her knees, hidden under a tree on her family's front lawn.

She had been savagely beaten with a six-iron golf club until it split apart and stabbed through the neck with the shaft. The golf club belonged to the Skakels.

``This was a young woman who did nothing more than befriend him, innocently play with him, trust him, and yet who he repeatedly beat about the head too many times to count . . . '' Benedict said of Skakel. ``It was chilling. It was cold-bloodedly evil.''

Also made public yesterday were a slew of new letters from Skakel supporters requesting a lenient sentence, including one from Ethel Kennedy. On simple stationery embossed with the heading ``August, 2002, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts,'' her summer address, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy wrote:

``With a heavy heart, yet with hope born of the morning sun, I write to ask that your compassion will tip the scales in your decision regarding my nephew, Michael Skakel.''

In a letter laced with references to faith, the letter concluded, ``I pray that you will season justice with that twice blessed attribute of God, mercy, and let him continue to enrich our lives. Out of the depths, but with hope, Ethel Kennedy.''

Following yesterday's proceedings, Dorthy Moxley, the victim's 70-year-old mother, said she was satisfied with the sentence. Asked if she felt sorry for Skakel, she said, ``My general nature is to have a little sympathy for everybody so I do . . . but I still feel as though he has to be punished for what he did to Martha.''

Skakel juror Kenneth Arnow of Stamford listened to the sentencing hearing on the radio but couldn't decide what a fair sentence would be.

``He deserves time but I'm no judge of that,'' he said. ``You don't want to impose that onto anybody. That's why he's the judge.''

Christia Valentino, another Skakel juror, also said she was grateful to be spared from deciding his fate.

``It's a relief it's over with,'' the Darien resident said. ``I felt that the judge was a very fair individual. I think (the sentence) is acceptable.''

Franci Richardon and Kevin Rothstein contributed to this report



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