NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A judge threw out two claims in Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's latest appeal of his 2002 murder conviction on Tuesday, but allowed the bulk of the appeal arguing his previous attorney did a poor job to head to trial.
Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life in prison for the fatal beating of Martha Moxley in Greenwich in 1975, when they were 15-year-old neighbors.
Superior Court Judge Samuel Sferrazza ruled Skakel's attorneys did not have to bring up their claims related to trial attorney Michael Sherman in an earlier appeal as prosecutors argued.
"Merely because one has an option to raise an issue either earlier or later, possibly using different procedural devices, does not necessarily mean the litigant cannot take advantage of both procedures," the judge wrote.
Skakel's appeal claims multiple shortcomings by Sherman at trial, including his failure to gather witnesses who could have challenged the prosecutors' case, a missed opportunity to object to improper closing arguments and his handling of the case's transfer from juvenile court.
Sferrazza said the closing arguments and the juvenile court transfer were previously upheld and could not be argued again. Other parts can move forward, however. A trial is scheduled for April.
Prosecutor Susann Gill said she is considering an appeal of the ruling. Hubert Santos, Skakel's current attorney, said he was pleased and the pieces that were thrown out are not central to his request for a new trial.
Attorneys for Skakel argue that Sherman failed to challenge the state's star witness by finding witnesses who later rejected his claim that Skakel confessed to the crime. Skakel said Sherman failed to obtain evidence from prosecutors and others pointing to other suspects.
Gill argued that most of the issues cited were denied in an earlier appeal and that Skakel should not be allowed to raise the same issues in an effort to get a different ruling from another judge.
Santos said the issues in the latest appeal are related — but not identical —to the earlier challenge. He said some of the rulings denying the earlier appeals lend support to the claims against Sherman.
Sherman has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel's conviction.
Skakel recently lost a bid for parole after a hearing in which he reiterated his innocence. Skakel already has lost two appeals before the Connecticut Supreme Court.