NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who will get his first parole hearing Wednesday, deserves to be released from prison a decade after he was convicted of killing his neighbor because he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice and has been a model inmate, his supporters say.
But the victim's relatives want Skakel kept in prison the rest of his life, saying he was properly convicted and has shown no remorse.
Skakel is serving 20 years to life for beating Martha Moxley to death with a golf club in 1975 in Greenwich when they were 15-year-old neighbors. Skakel is a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy.
"There's never been a person more deserving of parole than Michael Skakel," his attorney, Hope Seeley, said in a statement. "His track record during the past 10 years shows the person we all know him to be — caring, generous and committed to his faith, family and friends. His conviction was a miscarriage of justice, but that aside, his further incarceration would also be a miscarriage of justice in light of the fact that he should have been sentenced as a juvenile."
Skakel has lost appeals challenging his conviction that raised the juvenile issue and other claims.
Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, and brother, John, want him kept in prison for life. Skakel has shown no remorse, John Moxley said.
"Michael Skakel is representative of the most dangerous aspect of our society in that he was raised in an environment in which he was exposed to and at some point embraced the mindset that the rules of our general society did not then and do not now apply to him," Moxley wrote in a letter to the parole board. "And, I believe that Michael Skakel's inbred sense of self and his self-confessed quick temper will always represent a threat to society."
He said the murder continues to haunt him.
"No child should ever have to witness the pain I have seen my parents go through, which I know in my heart contributed to my father's early death," Moxley wrote.
Skakel's brother, John, said in a statement that criticism of his family was unfair.
"We have been hurting just as long — because we know that Michael did not kill Martha Moxley," John Skakel said.
Officials say Skakel is eligible to be released in April if parole officials approve it at the hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Suffield.
Skakel, convicted in 2002, is eligible for parole consideration because of laws in place at the time of the crime including good behavior credits.
In March, Skakel lost his bid for a reduction in his prison sentence. A three-judge panel rejected Skakel's request, saying there was nothing inappropriate or disproportionate about the sentence.
The 52-year-old Skakel insisted on his innocence at the hearing, citing so-called truth serums he has taken that are used to help people remember.
"Give me a polygraph," Skakel told the judges. "I've passed three sodium pentothal tests. I don't know what else to say."
Dorthy Moxley rejected Skakel's claims of innocence.
"I truly believe he is the one who murdered Martha," she said last month. "I'm sure he's the one who swung the golf club."
Asked about the impact of the crime, Moxley said, "When you lose a loved one, it just never goes away."
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2010 against Skakel's bid for a new trial, saying a claim implicating two other men in the killing wasn't credible. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Skakel has a habeas corpus appeal pending in state courts, accusing his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, of doing a poor job, a claim Sherman has rejected.
Skakel, who was arrested in 2000, has not had any disciplinary issues in prison, said Brian Garnett, spokesman for the state Department of Correction.
"Does Michael deserve to be paroled? Michael doesn't deserve to have been locked away for the last 10 years because he is innocent, but through this horrendous decade, Michael has been a model inmate and has chosen to use this time constructively," his brother John wrote in a letter to the parole board.