Alex Constantine - November 21, 2013
Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who won a new trial last month in the slaying of Martha Moxley in 1975, walked out of jail a free man Thursday after being released on $1.2 million bail.
A judge set bail after a brief hearing, ordering Skakel, 53, to remain in Connecticut and wear a tracking device.
The ruling brought applause in the courtroom from family members and other backers of Skakel, who is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy. Outside the courthouse, Moxley's brother, John, expressed disappointment that Skakel will be freed.
"We stand behind the state," Moxley said. "We are confident that Judge (Thomas) Bishop's decision will be overturned. But if there is another trial we will be here for that, too."
The Skakel family issued a statement calling his release "the first step in correcting a terrible wrong. We look forward to Michael being vindicated and justice finally being served."
Last month, Bishop ruled that Skakel's original defense was ineffective "in a myriad of ways." Skakel, in prison since a conviction in 2002 for killing his neighbor when they were both 15, was serving a sentence of 20 years to life.
Bridgeport State's Attorney John Smriga has appealed Bishop's decision. As that process takes place, Skakel's lawyer, Hubert Santos, argued Thursday that Skakel should be released from prison because he has served more than 11 years, is well-known and is not a threat to disappear.
Bishop said in his ruling last month that Skakel's first lawyer, Mickey Sherman, failed to locate a witness who backed up Skakel's alibi that he was at his cousin's house the night of the murder. Bishop also found that Sherman failed to find a man who challenged the claim by a star witness that Skakel confessed.
Prosecutors have argued that the jury convicted Skakel based on the evidence — which included three confessions and several incriminating statements by Skakel — and that Sherman's legal efforts exceeded standards for a competent defense.
Bishop's ruling surprised John Moxley, the victim's brother.
"Having been in the courtroom during the trial, there were a lot of things that Mickey Sherman did very cleverly," Moxley said. "But the evidence was against him. And when the evidence is against you, there's almost nothing you can do.
"I don't care if it was Perry Mason," he said. "The state had the evidence. It was his own words and deeds that led to the conviction."
Prosecutors said that in addition to his statements, Skakel had a motive for the slaying.
"His drug-addled mental state, coupled with the infuriating knowledge that his hated brother Tommy had a sexual liaison with Martha, and the fact that Martha spurned his advances, triggered the rage which led him to beat her to death with a golf club," prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in arguing to uphold the conviction.
Skakel's older brother, Thomas, was an early suspect because he was the last person seen with the victim, and Bishop's ruling said Skakel's defense should have focused more on Thomas.
The case was a big challenge for prosecutors because of issues including the age of the crime and the lack of forensic evidence. Skakel was convicted after a trial that focused on testimony that he confessed or made incriminating statements over the years.
Contributing: Associated Press