VERNON, Conn. – Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's latest appeal trial began Tuesday with his former lawyer defending an accusation that he failed to competently defend Skakel when he was convicted of murder in 2002.
Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, is serving 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of his Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley when both of them were 15.
Skakel argues that during the 2002 trial, attorney Michael Sherman failed to challenge the state's star witness and obtain evidence pointing to other suspects, did a poor job with jury selection and closing arguments and didn't hire enough investigators and expert consultants.
Sherman, the first witness to take the stand in Rockville Superior Court in the appeal trial, said he had been confident before the 2002 trial that he would win. Sherman previously has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel's conviction.
Prosecutors say many of the issues were rejected in earlier appeals.
Skakel, who lost a bid for parole last year, is hoping to get out of prison through a writ of habeas corpus arguing he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal representation when Sherman was his attorney.
Skakel's current attorney, Hubert Santos, argues that his client's conviction is based on two witnesses of dubious credibility who claimed Skakel confessed to the crime. He contends the verdict likely would have been different if Sherman had conducted an appropriate investigation, obtained evidence and challenged inappropriate state evidence.
Prosecutor Susann Gill counters that Skakel's conviction came after more than a dozen witnesses testified that he made incriminating statements, including three direct confessions.
Attorneys for Skakel argue that Sherman failed to challenge the state's star witness by finding witnesses who later rejected his claim that Skakel confessed to the crime.
Skakel has lost two appeals before the Connecticut Supreme Court.