NORWALK, Conn. – Michael Skakel was convicted Friday morning of beating his neighbor Martha Moxley to death in 1975 when both were 15 — a crime that many thought had been shielded by his Kennedy family ties and which opened a window into the privileged world of Greenwich, Conn.
Skakel, now 41, slumped a bit, then straightened as the verdict was read. Michael Sherman, his defense attorney, reassured him with a hand on the shoulder. Skakel, a look of surprise on his face, glanced at the jury, then at the entire courtroom, as the judge ordered silence.
"Today is Martha's day," said Dorthy Moxley, the slain girl's mother, outside the courthouse. "This is truly Martha's day."
Mrs. Moxley said she had prayed Friday morning: "Dear Lord, again today, like I've been doing for 27 years, I'm praying that I can find justice for Martha," she said.
Sherman vowed to do "whatever it takes" to free his client.
"As long as there is breath in my body, this case is not over as far as I'm concerned," he said.
The nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, Skakel could receive anything from 10 years to life in prison. He was handcuffed while still in the courtroom and sat at the defense table. Sentencing was set for July 19.
"Truth is more important than closure. We only know who did not do this," said Tom Skakel, Michael Skakel's brother. "For [our family], this trial has felt like a witch hunt."
The jury had been deliberating since Tuesday morning and had had several parts of courtroom testimony read back to them. They met again for about half an hour Friday morning before telling the judge they had reached a decision.
Mrs. Moxley, who had waged a determined campaign for justice, was a dignified fixture during the two-month trial. Even defense lawyers acknowledged the weight of her presence, asking potential jurors if they could acquit Skakel knowing it would bring her pain.
Moxley's battered body was discovered under a tree on her family's estate in the gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven. She had been bludgeoned with a golf club — later traced to a set owned by Skakel's mother — and stabbed in the neck with the shaft of the club.
At trial, prosecutors suggested Skakel was upset because his attractive blonde neighbor seemed more interested in his older brother, Thomas, an early suspect in the slaying.
The case went unsolved, creating speculation that wealth, privilege and the Kennedy connection had protected the Skakel family. After a flurry of books about the case in the 1990s, including works by former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman and crime writer Dominick Dunne, a one-judge grand jury investigated and Skakel was arrested.
Both Fuhrman — the only writer to name Skakel as the likely killer — and Moxley's brother John have said they believed the family's wealth and position affected the investigation.
By then, Skakel had been transformed from the lanky athlete of his teen-age years into a pudgy, divorced father battling alcoholism.
The case followed a twisted legal path before trial. Skakel declared his innocence and then, after he was charged, fought to have the case heard in juvenile court, only to have a judge rule the state has no juvenile facility in which to lock up a middle-aged man.
The case was transferred to adult court in January 2001.
Prosecutors had to present a 27-year-old case with no eyewitnesses and little forensic evidence. They withdrew a request for blood and hair samples from Skakel before trial, scuttling the possibility of arguing there was a DNA link between Skakel and Moxley.
Renowned forensics expert Henry Lee also testified that he found no direct evidence linking Skakel to the killing through DNA taken from semen, blood or material found under Moxley's fingernails.
The prosecution's case was instead based almost entirely on people who said they had heard Skakel confess or make incriminating statements. Among them were several former classmates of Skakel's from the Elan School, a substance abuse treatment center in Poland Spring, Maine.
One such witness, Gregory Coleman, was dead of heroin use by the time Skakel's trial began. But prosecutors were permitted to read Coleman's pretrial testimony into the record, including an allegation that Skakel once told him: "I'm going to get away with murder, because I'm a Kennedy."
The defense argued that Elan students were berated and beaten until they told administrators what they wanted to hear, an atmosphere that contributed to Skakel's purported confession.
Skakel's lawyers also repeatedly reminded the jury that Thomas Skakel and former Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton were longtime suspects. They also said Skakel was visiting a cousin in another part of Greenwich at the time of Moxley's death.
The trial opened a window on a privileged world where adult supervision of the teenage Skakels was often limited to nannies, gardeners and cooks. Skakel's mother had died in 1973; his father was on a hunting trip the night of the murder.
That night — the night before Halloween, often called "Mischief Night" — was described by witnesses as chaotic, with teenagers darting around the dimly lit Greenwich estates.
Witnesses, including Skakel's siblings, said he and several others had gone to a cousin's home in another part of Greenwich, where they smoked marijuana and watched "Monty Python's Flying Circus."
But prosecutors used Skakel's own words to place him on Moxley's property that night.
They played a tape of Skakel telling an author in 1997 that after he returned home from his cousin's house, he went to Moxley's estate, thinking: "Martha likes me. I'll go get a kiss from Martha. I'll be bold tonight."
He said he climbed a tree and threw sticks and small rocks at Moxley's window and yelled her name. He said he then masturbated in the tree, climbed down and started for home. He said something told him to avoid a dark area on the Moxley property.
"I remember yelling, 'Who's in there?'" Skakel said. He said he threw some rocks into the darkness, then ran.
Years later, a witness testified, Skakel recalled seeing his brother Thomas on the property that night. Other witnesses recalled tension between the brothers, and jurors were shown a shoe Moxley was wearing the night of her death. The word "Tom" was written on the shoe.
Skakel did not testify in his own defense, and his attorney said the tape of his client was enough to show jurors his client wasn't guilty.
Also on the tape, Skakel said he learned from Moxley's mother that she was missing.
"And I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, if I tell anybody that I was out that night, they're gonna say I did it,'" Skakel said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.