NORWALK, Conn. – Prosecutors in the murder trial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel proposed and then abruptly withdrew a request that could have reduced the penalty if Skakel is convicted in the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley.
Skakel, 41, is charged with beating Moxley to death with a golf club when they were 15-year-old neighbors in Greenwich. Skakel is a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy.
During a hearing Thursday outside the presence of the jury, prosecutors dropped their request that if jurors decided Skakel is guilty, they could also consider whether he acted under extreme emotional disturbance. If so, the judge would reduce the verdict of murder to manslaughter.
Murder is punishable by 25 years to life in prison, manslaughter by up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said they withdrew the motion because they feared it might create grounds for an appeal.
"We decided that we feel strongly enough in the integrity of our case," Deputy Chief State's Attorney Chris Morano said.
The idea had been proposed earlier Thursday as lawyers for both sides discussed the instructions Superior Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. will give jurors after closing arguments Monday.
Defense attorney Michael Sherman had opposed the request.
"Maybe they realized they made a big mistake," Sherman said after the hearing. "I think they filed this motion in a display of a lack of confidence in their case."
A manslaughter conviction could raise a statute of limitations question. Sherman previously lost a bid to have the case thrown out on those grounds, but said Thursday that in 1975 there was a five-year limit on manslaughter prosecutions.
On the other hand, prosecutors could have argued that such a verdict would still be a murder conviction and thus not subject to a limit.
During the trial, witnesses have testified Skakel told classmates at a substance abuse treatment center in Maine that his brother "stole his girlfriend." Investigators have said both Michael and his older brother, Thomas, were romantically interested in Moxley.
Prosecutors also played a tape of Skakel telling an author in 1997 that he had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night of the slaying, and had sat in a tree outside the Moxley home yelling her name and becoming sexually aroused.
But Sherman said there is no basis to argue that Skakel — who has steadfastly denied any involvement in Moxley's murder — was affected by extreme emotional disturbance.
"He didn't do it while he was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or Twinkies," Sherman said.