The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would not consider reinstating the murder conviction of Kennedy family member Michael Skakel in the 1975 killing of a teenaged neighbor in the wealthy New York suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.
Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, widow of slain U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He has been under legal scrutiny since his neighbor Martha Moxley was beaten to death with a golf club in 1975, when both were 15 years old. He was arrested for the crime after a 1998 book revived interest in the unsolved case.
Prosecutors in Connecticut had petitioned the high court to review last year’s decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court throwing out Skakel’s 2002 conviction on the grounds that his trial lawyer made a crucial error.
Their request was backed by 11 states, which argued the high court should rule in Connecticut’s favor to forestall a wave of appeals based on claims of ineffective legal counsel.
State prosecutors must now decide whether to retry Skakel, though any new trial would face the challenge of relying on witnesses whose memories are decades old.
Skakel, 58, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and served more than half his term before being released on bail when a judge vacated his sentence.
In 2016, the Connecticut Supreme Court reinstated his conviction, only to review its own ruling at the request of Skakel’s appellate lawyer. In the interim, a justice who voted to reinstate the conviction retired and was replaced by another justice who went the other way, thus flipping the court’s 4-3 decision.
The majority said Skakel’s lawyer failed to present the jury with testimony from a witness regarding a potential alibi.
In their petition to the top Court, the states said the Connecticut court should have considered the overall performance of Skakel’s defense team. The precedent would lead to a swell of appeals focused on isolated mistakes, driving up costs for prosecutors, they asserted.
Moxley was found half-hidden among pine trees near her home, bludgeoned to death by a golf club that was later traced to a set owned by Skakel’s mother.
The killing went unsolved for more than two decades, until former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, known for his role in the O.J. Simpson murder case, implicated Skakel in a 1998 book.
A fresh investigation was launched, and Skakel was charged in 2000.