On this day in 2002, 41-year-old Michael Skakel is convicted in the 1975 murder of his former Greenwich, Connecticut, neighbor, 15-year-old neighbor Martha Moxley. Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the wife of the late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, was later sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
On October 30, 1975, Moxley was bludgeoned to death with a golf club outside her family’s home in Greenwich, one of America’s most affluent communities. The golf club was later determined to have come from a set belonging to the Skakel family, who lived across the street from the Moxleys. Investigators initially focused on one of Michael Skakel’s older brothers, the last person Moxley reportedly was seen alive with, as well as the Skakels’ live-in tutor as possible suspects, but no arrests were made due to lack of evidence, and the case stalled.
In the early 1990s, Connecticut authorities relaunched the investigation, and public interest in the case also was reignited by several new books, including Dominick Dunne’s “A Season in Purgatory” (1993), a fictionalized account of the crime, and former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman’s “A Murder in Greenwich” (1998), in which he claimed that Michael Skakel killed Moxley in a jealous rage because she was romantically interested in his older brother. In 2000, based in part on statements made by former classmates of Skakel’s who claimed he admitted to them in the 1970s to killing Moxley, he was charged with her murder.
Skakel, who came from a family of seven children, had a wealthy, privileged upbringing; however, his mother died from cancer in 1973 and he had a troubled relationship with his father. In the late 1970s, Skakel, who began drinking heavily as a teen, was sent to the Elan School, a private boarding school in Poland, Maine, for troubled youth. At Skakel’s 2002 trial, the prosecution presented testimony from several of his former Elan classmates who stated that in the 1970s Skakel had confessed to killing Moxley. One ex-classmate, a drug addict who died shortly before the 2002 trial started, claimed at a previous court hearing that Skakel told him, “I am going to get away with murder because I am a Kennedy.”
At trial, prosecutors, who had no eyewitnesses and no physical evidence directly linking Skakel to the murder, played a 1997 taped conversation between Skakel and the ghostwriter of an autobiography Skakel hoped to sell. Skakel said on tape that on the night of the murder he climbed into a tree in the Moxleys’ yard, while drunk and high on marijuana, and masturbated as he tried to look into Martha Moxley’s bedroom window. He said that when Moxley’s mother came to his house the next morning looking for her daughter, he felt panicked and wondered if someone had seen him the night before. Although Skakel never admitted on the tape to killing Moxley, prosecutors said his words put him at the scene of the crime and were an attempt to cover up the slaying.
After three days of deliberations, jurors found Skakel guilty of murder, and in August 2002, he was sentenced to 20 years to life behind bars. Skakel’s cousin, Robert Kennedy Jr., an attorney, later worked to get Skakel a new trial; however, in 2010, the request was denied by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
In October 2013, in yet another twist to the case, a Connecticut judge ordered a new trial for Skakel, ruling that his first trial lawyer didn’t represent him effectively. The following month, Skakel was released from prison on a $1.2 million bond.