Skakel Decision Has Legal Community Talking

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Michael Skakel
Michael Skakel

It wasn't long after Skakel's initial conviction that critics focused on Sherman's performance during the trial. Many said the Greenwich attorney was more interested in raising his media profile than providing an aggressive defense.

This past April, Skakel himself took the stand at his habeas hearing and portrayed Sherman as an overly confident lawyer basking in the media limelight while making fundamental mistakes from poor jury picks to failing to track down key witnesses.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of Skakel's, said on NBC's "Today" last week that the only thing that Skakel was guilty of was having "very, very poor representation. If he gets another trial, he's got good lawyers now and there's no way in the world that he will be convicted."

In a 136-page decision, Judge Thomas Bishop went into great depth about the crime, the investigation and the trial. The bottom line, he said, is that the defense in such a case requires attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense.

"Trial counsel's failures in each of these areas of representation were significant and, ultimately, fatal to a constitutionally adequate defense," Bishop wrote. "As a consequence of trial counsel's failures as stated, the state procured a judgment of conviction that lacks reliability."

Among other issues, the judge wrote that the defense could have focused more on Skakel's brother, Thomas, who was the last person seen with Martha Moxley. Had Sherman tried to persuade jurors that Thomas was a more likely suspect, "there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different," the judge wrote.

Santos, Skakel's lawyer, said a motion to grant Skakel a bond, which would get him out of prison while awaiting a retrial, was filed Oct. 23.

"Michael is hoping to be vindicated," Santos told the Law Tribune. "We're obviously pleased with the ruling, and we're hoping to vindicate Michael."

Meanwhile, John Smriga, state's attorney for the Judicial District of Fairfield, is planning to appeal Bishop's decision. He said the state will contest Santos' attempt to have bond set and Skakel freed.

Interestingly, in a news release, prosecutors defended Sherman's work.

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