HARTFORD — In a stunning reversal, the Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday vacated Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's murder conviction and ordered a new trial in connection with a 1975 killing in wealthy Greenwich.
The court issued a 4-3 ruling Friday that Skakel's trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to present evidence of an alibi. The decision reversed the high court's previous ruling in December 2016 that reinstated Skakel's conviction after a lower court ordered a new trial, citing mistakes by Sherman.
Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted of murder in 2002 in the bludgeoning death of Martha Moxley in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood in 1975, when they were teenagers. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, but was freed on $1.2 million bail after the lower court overturned his murder conviction in 2013.
The case has drawn international attention because of the Kennedy name, Skakel's rich family, numerous theories about who killed Moxley and the brutal way in which she died. Several other people, including Skakel's brother Tommy Skakel, have been mentioned as possible killers.
Skakel's appellate lawyer, Hubert Santos, had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its 2016 ruling, resulting in Friday's decision.
Santos argued that Sherman made poor decisions, including not focusing on Skakel's brother as a possible suspect and failing to attempt to contact an alibi witness. Santos said Skakel was several miles away from the crime scene watching a Monty Python movie with friends when Moxley was bludgeoned with a golf club.
Santos also has said there was no physical evidence or eyewitnesses linking Skakel to the killing.
Sherman has defended his work, and state prosecutors have argued he did an adequate job. The Associated Press left a message with him Friday seeking comment on the ruling.
Writing for the majority, Justice Richard Palmer said Skakel was prejudiced in the case by Sherman's failure to obtain alibi testimony from witness Denis Ossorio.
"Without Ossorio's testimony, the state was able to attack the petitioner's (Skakel's) alibi — a complete alibi for the time period during which it is highly likely that the victim was murdered — as part of a Skakel family conspiracy to cover up the petitioner's involvement in the victim's murder," Palmer wrote.
Moxley's brother, John Moxley, told the AP that he was disappointed with the ruling and that it was too soon to say what the family would want next in the case.
"I don't know what the next steps are. My mom is getting older. I just don't think she has the strength to go with this," said Moxley, 59.
He said he would not trade places with Skakel for anything.
"He'll be in jail for the rest of his life," Moxley said. "He may not be physically in jail. He may be walking the streets, but he'll be in hell at some point."
A timeline of key developments in the Connecticut murder case against Michael Skakel:
— Oct. 30, 1975: Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley is beaten to death with a golf club, later traced to a set owned by Michael Skakel's late mother. Moxley's battered body is found the next day under a tree on her family's estate. The case is unsolved for 25 years and is the subject of several books.
— June 17, 1998: Prosecutors announce that a one-judge grand jury has been appointed to investigate the murder.
— Jan. 18, 2000: Arrest warrant issued.
— Jan. 19, 2000: Skakel surrenders to police. He is charged as a juvenile because of his age 15 at the time of the murder.
— March 14, 2000: Skakel is arraigned. He approaches the victim's mother in court and tells her: "You've got the wrong guy."
— April 19, 2001: Gregory Coleman, who attended a substance abuse treatment center with Skakel in the 1970s, admits being high on heroin when he testified before the grand jury but stands by his testimony that Skakel said he would get away with murder because "I'm a Kennedy."
— June 7, 2002: Skakel is convicted by a panel of 12 jurors in Norwalk Superior Court. Two months later, he is sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
— Jan. 14, 2004: Connecticut Supreme Court hears arguments to appeal the verdict. The appeal contends the statute of limitations applies and prosecutors failed to turn over crucial evidence. The appeal was denied in January 2006.
— Aug. 26, 2004: Skakel seeks new trial based on a claim by Gitano "Tony" Bryant that implicates two men in the murder.
— Nov. 13, 2006: Skakel loses longshot effort to win reversal of his murder conviction when the U.S. Supreme Court declines to take his case.
— April 12, 2010: Connecticut Supreme Court rejects Skakel's bid for a new trial, ruling a claim implicating two other men was not credible.
— Sept. 27, 2010: Skakel files a new appeal of his murder conviction, this time arguing his high-profile trial attorney, Michael Sherman, was incompetent.
— Oct. 24, 2012: A state parole board denies his bid for freedom, telling him he could be considered for release again in five years.
— April 25, 2013: Skakel, who did not testify at his trial, takes the stand in support of his appeal to argue Sherman did a poor job. He said Sherman took photos of the judge and jury with a pen camera and had him sign an autograph. "I was flabbergasted at the nonchalant attitude," Skakel said.
— Oct. 23, 2013: A Connecticut judge grants a new trial for Skakel, ruling his attorney failed to adequately represent him when he was convicted in 2002.
— Nov. 21, 2013: Skakel is granted bail as prosecutors appeal the ruling for a new trial. Skakel posts $1.2 million bail and is freed pending appeal.
— Dec. 30, 2016: A divided Connecticut Supreme Court reinstates Skakel's conviction. In a 4-3 decision, it rejects a lower court ruling that his trial lawyer didn't adequately represent him. Skakel, then 56, faces a possible return to prison.
— Jan. 9, 2017: Lawyers for Skakel ask the Connecticut Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to reinstate his murder conviction — a request that adds another twist to the case because the justice who wrote the 4-3 majority ruling has left the court.
— May 8, 2017: Connecticut Supreme Court finalizes a ruling that reinstates the conviction. The court releases a final, edited version of the decision announced in December. Skakel's request for justices to reconsider that decision remains pending.
— Jan. 30, 2018: Connecticut officials ask the state's highest court to revoke Skakel's bail and send him back to prison, reminding justices it has been more than a year since they reinstated his murder conviction.
— Feb. 22, 2018: Connecticut Supreme Court rejects the request by prosecutors to revoke Skakel's bail and send him back to prison.
— May 4, 2018: Connecticut Supreme Court vacates Skakel's murder conviction 4-3 and orders a new trial, saying defense attorney Michael Sherman failed to present evidence of an alibi.