The Skakel Enigma

On November 21, 2013, Michael Skakel emerged from Stamford Superior Court, free on bail, after serving eleven years, five months and fourteen days of a possible life sentence for murdering Martha Moxley in 1975. Dressed in a charcoal pinstripe suit and bright blue tie, Skakel gave a brief, beatific smile as his attorney, Hubert Santos, said a few confident words to the press: “There were two tragedies that occurred in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975.…” Then Skakel slipped into the passenger side of a rented Hyundai driven by his private investigator, Vito Colucci, and rolled out of town.

So went the latest turn in one of the longest, weirdest, most baffling crime dramas in American history. One month earlier, Thomas A. Bishop, Connecticut’s judge of last resort, had thrown out Skakel’s 2002 conviction, ruling that Mickey Sherman, the swashbuckling attorney who defended Skakel at trial, had stumbled so badly on so many counts that he fell short of even basic lawyerly competence. Bishop’s decision shocked the legal pundits—many of whom knew and admired Sherman. Incompetence usually means missing court dates, showing up drunk or dozing off repeatedly in mid-session. What was Bishop up to? The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, who believes Skakel was rightly convicted, saw in the judge’s scathing 135-page decision a semi-secret agenda: “It is designed to show that Sherman did an incompetent job, but Bishop seems principally interested in proving that Skakel was in fact not guilty of the murder.”

The decision does read like a vindication of Michael Skakel. What it means legally, however, is that Skakel has returned to the status of an arrested man awaiting trial. Will the retrial he’s been granted actually take place? Odds are against it. Fairfield County prosecutors have prepared a detailed appeal of Bishop’s ruling in which they argue that he impugned Sherman’s strategy rather than his competence—and thus overshot his judicial authority. The likeliest outcomes are these: The prosecutors succeed in overturning the decision next year, and Skakel goes back to prison; or the prosecutors fail, and decide to call it a day rather than put on a second trial a full forty years after the crime, with many key witnesses now dead.

THE JUDGE’S RULING

Among the litany of failings Judge Bishop ticks off, he pays special attention to Sherman’s soft-shoe around Tommy Skakel, Michael’s older brother and childhood nemesis, not to mention the last known person to see Martha alive. Why, Bishop wonders, did Sherman focus on live-in tutor Ken Littleton as the possible killer when the case against Tommy was so much stronger? Evidence of Tommy’s “direct involvement with the crime was powerful,” Bishop observes. “Sherman’s failure to point an accusatory finger at [him] was and is inexplicable.” (Sherman remains convinced that the evidence against Littleton was stronger. Briefly it seemed he had confessed, but at trial the story was revealed to be a sham.)

Like anyone else who undertakes to solve this ghastly whodunit, Bishop then lays out the damning evidence against Tommy, including a pair of lies he told right off the bat. The first lie: After he and Martha parted at around 9:30, Tommy said, he went inside to write a paper about Abraham Lincoln and log cabins. No such paper was assigned, police reported in 1975 (and Tommy’s teacher, Barbara Train, confirmed for me in the 1990s, when I started looking into the case). The second lie: Tommy and Martha did not part at 9:30 after all. Eighteen years after the murder, on being told that Henry Lee, the forensics wiz, would be combing the evidence for traces of DNA, Tommy tearfully admitted to private investigators that, after going back inside briefly, he met Martha on his back lawn. There, in this new version, he and Martha masturbated each other to orgasm. The encounter ended as late as 9:55, when the two rearranged their clothing and Martha hurried off toward her own house across the lane. The walk would have taken her only ten or fifteen seconds; it appears she had advanced a few feet up her driveway when her killer savagely attacked with a ladies’ six-iron belonging to the Skakel family. After inflicting numerous blows to her skull, he used the broken shaft to stab her though the neck, and then hastily tried to conceal her body by dragging it about eighty feet to a pine tree with low- hanging boughs.

Bishop underscores a puzzling fact that emerged at trial but received little scrutiny. Henry Lee had testified that blood spatter inside Martha’s jeans and panties showed that her attacker struck when her pants were down. Further, the panties had been delicately rolled down her legs rather than forcibly pulled down, as if by an aggressor, Lee said. Bishop writes, “It is a fair reading of Dr. Lee’s testimony that he concluded that the unbuttoning of the victim’s jeans was not part of an assault on her and that her jeans had been unbuttoned before she was assaulted.” The judge is hinting that the sex play flowed into the fatal assault—that what started as a consensual encounter “may have turned terribly bad.” In this scenario, the only possible killer is Tommy. However, Bishop’s fair reading of Lee’s testimony is not the only reading. The killer could have incapacitated Martha with a blow, lowered her jeans, and then resumed his attack.

Bishop points out that it was Tommy, not Michael, who had been making increasingly brazen advances on Martha: “Tom S. was being such an ass,” Martha wrote in her diary twenty-six days before she died. “At the dance he kept putting his arms around me and making moves.” For good measure, Bishop adds a detail redacted from the Greenwich police reports and never introduced at trial: that Tommy had a habit of going for walks with a golf club in his hand (this according to Franz Wittine, the Skakel handyman-gardener).

As for Michael? Bishop clearly thinks the case against him is flimsy. He writes, “It would be an understatement to say that the state did not possess overwhelming evidence of [his] guilt.”

Bishop based his stunning decision on a two-week habeas corpus trial in April of 2013. A habeas corpus trial happens when all direct appeals have been exhausted; it’s a last-ditch effort that almost every convicted felon wants to try but that almost never works. In Connecticut, habeas corpus trials are conducted in the sleepy town of Vernon—“where fun goes to die,” according to a road sign on the outskirts. This trial certainly wasn’t fun, but neither was it dull. Among other things, the public got to hear for the first time ever the sworn testimony of Michael Skakel. Where he’d once blamed investigators, prosecutors, witnesses, writers, journalists and TV people for his predicament—not always without justification—he now zeroed in on Mickey Sherman. All Sherman talked about, Michael charged, was “money and golf.” It’s impossible to say whether Skakel obsessed over his former lawyer behind bars, but, having discovered a talent for art, he painted a portrait of Sherman so unflattering that his art teacher refused to exhibit it.

In Vernon, I saw Sherman for the first time in a year or so. He was there to testify and to take a beating from other witnesses. (I ended up in the witness chair myself, on a side issue.) He seemed weary but otherwise in his usual good spirits. As he went to shake hands with an acquaintance I heard him say, “Don’t worry. Incompetence isn’t contagious.”

Not that Sherman took any of this lightly. To begin with, losing the case of his life had personally devastated him. Later it emerged that he’d disregarded his income tax payments in those hectic years surrounding the trial, a lapse that cost him six months’ freedom. No sooner did he get out of prison than Michael’s appellate team, Hubert Santos and Hope Seeley (who has since become a judge), played what amounted to their trump card: attacking Sherman’s performance at trial. “Clearly, it’s been hell,” Sherman tells me, sitting behind the desk of his law office at the top of West Putnam Avenue. “Did they throw me under the bus? Absolutely. They backed up and rolled over me several times.”

But Sherman stoically declines to protest that strategy, especially since it resulted in Skakel’s release, as he hoped it would. “As much as it’s been uncomfortable for me, I have not been to jail for eleven years for a crime I didn’t commit. If I’m collateral damage, so be it,” he says. “Do I feel responsible for the claims they’ve made? Of course I don’t. But then again, there’s only one issue. Did I win the case? No. I lost it. And that makes me responsible.”

(Sherman’s old adversaries—Skakel’s prosecutors—staunchly defend his trial performance. “A full review of the record shows that Sherman’s efforts far exceeded the standards of most non-capital defenses,” Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Susann Gill wrote after the habeas corpus trial. “Simply put, if this level of representation falls short of Sixth Amendment standards, countless convictions would be called into question.”)

SKAKEL V. SHERMAN

At the habeas corpus trial, Michael was eager to catalogue Sherman’s supposed blunders. He told how Sherman promised the case would never go to trial; how, once it did go to trial, Sherman spent many a lunch hour hanging out with the press and with Michael’s sworn enemies, Dominick Dunne and Mark Fuhrman; how Sherman’s war chest evaporated despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Skakel family poured into it; how Sherman failed to call expert witnesses to rebut the damaging testimony of former denizens of Élan, the school for troubled youths in Maine that Michael attended in the late seventies; how Sherman didn’t bother to impeach Élan witness Liz Arnold, who revealed Michael’s possible motive and was (Michael said) “best friends” with Dominick Dunne; and how Sherman, out of sheer fecklessness, failed to turn up crucial defense witnesses like Denis Ossorio.

But Michael’s command of the facts leaves much to be desired. Liz Arnold, for instance, whom we shall come to later, tells me she never met Dunne, and talked to him only once, briefly, on the phone. The idea that she was doing his bidding from the witness stand—as Michael proposed—was “ridiculous.” Ossorio? Michael said he told Sherman “a hundred times” to track him down, but Sherman simply brushed him off. Whatever one thinks of Sherman’s defense, this is hard to believe. Though Sherman declined to engage in a point-by-point rebuttal of Michael’s accusations, he did tell me that he never heard Ossorio’s name when preparing for the trial and would have “jumped for joy” to find a possibly game-changing alibi witness. Bolstering Sherman’s claim is the fact that Ossorio never popped up in ten years of appeals.

Ossorio finally entered the story at the habeas corpus trial. If what he says is true—and Bishop seems to believe it is—then perhaps Michael is genuinely innocent of the murder. The seventy-three-year-old psychologist turned restaurateur is the only non-family member who places Michael far from the crime scene at 10 p.m. on the night of the murder. How exactly did Ossorio and Michael cross paths? Michael and his brothers Rush and John, together with their cousin Jim Terrien (who now goes by the name of Dowdle), all say they left their Belle Haven neighborhood at 9:30 and drove twenty minutes to the Terrien house, on Cliffdale Road in the backcountry, to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The trip itself is not in question. At issue was whether Michael went along or stayed behind. The jurors sided with Skakel family friend Andrea Shakespeare Renna, who said Michael was still at the Skakel house when the Lincoln bearing Rush, John and Jim pulled away. Michael’s sister, Julie, inadvertently reinforced this impression at trial. As she was leaving to take Andrea home that night, a figure ran across the front of the Skakel house: “Come back here, Michael!” she called into the dark as the figure kept going. Julie claimed she then thought the person wasn’t her brother, but apparently the jury did not believe her.

On Cliffdale Road, Jim Terrien’s sister Georgeann was entertaining her “beau,” Denis Ossorio, in the library when the alleged foursome walked into the house. In 1975 Georgeann told police she had “observed” the four boys, but in 1998 she told a grand jury that she had only heard them: “I didn’t really venture out” of the library. Georegann stumbled over this discrepancy at the 2002 trial, and exited the courtroom in tears.

Which brings us back to Ossorio. Here’s an exchange from the habeas corpus trial on April 17, 2013, regarding the night of the murder: Santos: Was there a TV show about Monty Python?

Ossorio: Yes, it was the Monty Python show that we all enjoyed watching. Georgeann was putting her daughter to bed at that time, so I was talking with the boys.
Santos: Which included Michael Skakel?
Ossorio: Correct.

So there it is. Ossorio confirms that Michael was watching television seven miles away from Belle Haven at the probable hour of Martha’s death… or does he?

A POISONOUS ATMOSPHERE

On June 7, 2002, as the jury finished deliberating and rain fell lightly upon the courthouse in Norwalk—where the criminal trial took place—Michael Skakel stood outside chatting on his cell phone. “You should hang!” somebody barked from a passing car, whereupon Skakel snapped his phone shut and walked inside. The drive-by shouter merely accentuated what was, for Michael, a poisonous atmosphere. It had been largely created, he believed, by Mark Fuhrman, the “O.J.” police detective who fingered him as Martha’s killer in his book Murder in Greenwich (1998), and Dominick Dunne, who set Fuhrman up on the project and tended to believe whatever stray gossip implicated Michael. (Full disclosure: I wrote a book about the case called Greentown in 1998 and published an updated edition last year. I did not name Michael as the killer, but I did cast suspicion on both him and Tommy, thus earning my own share of enmity.)

Public hostility was one reason the Skakel family hired the affable, media-savvy Sherman. The man who engineered Sherman’s hiring was none other than Emanuel Margolis, Tommy’s longtime criminal defense attorney, who died in 2011. This raises a troubling question: Did Margolis intend to thwart pursuit of Tommy by controlling the process? Sherman says he never felt pressure to tread lightly and would have gone after Tommy aggressively had the evidence supported that strategy. But, Sherman added, Margolis did keep Tommy off-limits as a witness: “I was allowed to meet with Tommy once, with his attorney basically sitting on his lap. Manny Margolis protected him like a mother hen.” What’s more, Margolis made clear that if Sherman called Tommy to the stand, Tommy would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “I think Manny and I became not friends from that meeting on,” Sherman says.

When I first began looking into Martha’s murder twenty-one years ago, suspicion ran heavily toward Tom Skakel. (In May 1976 Greenwich police went so far as to apply for an arrest warrant for him, but State’s Attorney Donald Browne thought the evidence too scant.) With Michael’s arrest in 2000, some who had hinted at secret knowledge of Tommy’s guilt said they’d known that Michael was the killer all along. Others suspected Ken Littleton after addiction and mental illness sent his life into a tailspin. Unfortunately for Littleton, one who suspected him was Jack Solomon, a state inspector who pursued him with Javertian zeal. In one dramatic confrontation from 1992, Littleton tells me that Solomon screamed at him, “You did it! You did it! Come on Ken! Admit to us how you killed Martha!” Eventually, prosecutors cleared Littleton, who lacked a motive and was well accounted for on the night of the murder.

The investigator Vito Colucci believes that, had fate taken a slightly different turn, either Tommy or Littleton could have been arrested for killing Martha. “Any of those three, Littleton, Tommy or Michael, would have been found guilty,” says Colucci, referring to the climate of the trial and the public desire to see the case resolved. “It just happened to be Michael who was arrested.”

(These days people close to the Skakels credit a story put forth by a Brunswick schoolmate of Michael’s named Tony Bryant. In it, Bryant accompanies two New York boys to Belle Haven but leaves before they carry out a plan to brutalize Martha “caveman style.” This tale is easily dispatched: Bryant cites a dozen or so witnesses to the trio’s presence in Belle Haven that night, but not one of them can back him up. It appears, however, that Santos and his team, on the strength of a couple of intriguing hairs found on a sheet used to wrap Martha’s body, will continue to explore Bryant’s story.)

THE STATE’S CASE REVISITED

State Inspector Frank Garr was always skeptical of his partner Solomon’s Littleton obsession. Garr suspected Michael as early as 1992, while revisiting a pair of Wrangler blue jeans that Greenwich police had recovered from the Skakel trash soon after the murder. He was able to trace ownership of the jeans to Michael, who’d got them from a fellow summer camper in 1975. (Only photos of the jeans survived; the jeans themselves, embarrassingly, were lost.) Discovered on the jeans—and preserved on a glass slide—was a long blonde hair. Garr had Henry Lee test the hair, and Lee found that it was Martha’s. This in itself proved nothing. But when Garr learned that Michael had denied attending the summer camp—an obvious untruth—he wondered whether Michael was trying to put distance between himself and the jeans.

That was the beginning. Over the next several years, Garr built a persuasive if circumstantial case against Michael. There was the Skakel driver who claimed Michael said he’d done something so bad he had to kill himself or leave the country. There were the close family friends who said Michael had told his father he’d been drunk and had blacked out on the night of the murder, and might have killed Martha in that altered state. There were at least five people from a reform school in Maine—the infamous Élan—to whom Michael made similar admissions. One of them, Liz Arnold, testified further that Michael claimed Tommy had fooled around with his “girlfriend” that night. Question: How did Michael know about Tommy and Martha if he wasn’t there? Arnold told me she liked Michael and could not imagine him killing anyone. But she’s also aware that her testimony helped supply the missing motive: jealous rage.

The strongest prosecution witness was another Élanite, John Higgins, who recalled Michael engaging in a tearful soliloquy on a dormitory porch one night. Higgins said Michael began by questioning whether he’d killed Martha, proceeded to a vision of himself “running through some woods, [with] a golf club in his hands,” and finally “came to the point that he did do it, he must have done it.” But Higgins’s account, potent as it is, sounds less like a confession than a man trying to break through a hazy memory, perhaps even trying to convince himself of his guilt. (Higgins died of a heart attack last December at the age of fifty-one.)

Did Skakel ever make an unequivocal admission of guilt? Depends on whom you believe. At the criminal trial, a Greenwich hairdresser claimed a person he later deduced was Michael casually confessed while sitting in his barber chair in 1976. Then there was the heroin addict who said he heard Michael say back in the Élan days, “I’m gonna get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.” (Michael is a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the late Bobby Kennedy.) This last witness, Gregory Coleman, managed to kill himself with tainted heroin before the criminal trial, but his pretrial testimony was admitted, over Sherman’s objection. I’m not sure what the jurors made of these two confession witnesses, but, for what it’s worth, I discounted them both. The hairdresser’s story struck me as so tenuous that the prosecutors undercut their case by putting the fellow on the stand. As for Coleman: the tabloidy brashness of that “I’m a Kennedy” declaration starkly contradicts the earnest confusion that accompanied Michael’s other admissions. (Also, others who were present with Coleman at the time have come forward to say they don’t believe this confession ever happened.)

Richard Ofshe, a noted sociologist and confession expert who testified on Michael’s behalf at the habeas corpus trial, said that jurors value confession evidence highly—nearly as highly as DNA evidence—but it is actually notoriously tricky. After leaving the stand, Ofshe told me he considered the Élan evidence almost laughably unreliable given the coercive atmosphere of the school.

In the end, the strongest evidence against Michael may have been his own tape-recorded voice. Frank Garr had seized the audiotapes from a Massachusetts writer named Richard Hoffman, who in 1997 was working with Michael on his memoir, titled Dead Man Talking: A Kennedy Cousin Comes Clean. Michael had planned to devote a chapter to Martha’s murder, and these interview tapes were supposed to provide the raw material; what they provided instead were the seeds of his conviction. (Stephen Seeger, an attorney on Skakel’s defense team, says the tapes are “stolen evidence” and has filed a motion to suppress them in anticipation of a new trial.)

On the tapes Michael tells Hoffman his now infamous Peeping Tom story—the one in which he scrambles up a tree by the Moxley house around midnight on the night of the murder, hoping to lure Martha out for a kiss, and then masturbates from his perch. The next morning, an anxious Dorthy Moxley comes to the Skakel door, looking for her missing daughter. Michael answers. Seeing Dorthy there, “I remember just having a feeling of panic. Like, ‘Oh, shit.’ You know. Like my worry of what I went to bed with… I just had, I had a feeling of panic.” As the disc played in the courtroom, Michael’s words flashed across a video screen (“panic” highlighted in red), together with a picture of Martha’s dead body in the grass. The prosecution was illustrating its theory that Michael’s panic stemmed from murder, not masturbation—but the dynamic presentation carried the force of a documentary.

“Nothing in those tapes was the least bit incriminating,” Richard Hoffman tells me via Facebook message. “The way the prosecution misused them was mendacious, an act of desperation. Alas, the jury, thus lied to, was swayed.”

Critics called the prosecution’s multimedia montage a “fabricated confession.” Admirers called it a clever and convincing show, one that produced “a sense of lived experience in real time,” according to legal scholar Richard K. Sherwin. “The resuscitation of that moment causes a shudder.” That’s true; it did. I remember Michael growing hot under the collar as he watched the prosecution’s narrative tighten around him, imputing a killer’s meaning to his every word.

With or without the prosecution’s theorizing, however, the tapes show Michael reciting with cinematic precision events that he had long claimed were an alcoholic blur. (As late as 1992, according to the journalist Leonard Levitt, Michael asked his lawyer Thomas Sheridan, “Do you think I could have done it? I had a load on.” Sheridan, it should be said, believed in Michael’s innocence and noted his tendency to fantasize darkly.) Now that Michael remembers October 30, 1975, so clearly, he’s certain he had no part in killing Martha. Obnoxiously, he implicates both of the male “help” who lived in the Skakel house—Ken Littleton and Franz Wittine—and does so by summoning details of dubious authenticity. For instance, Michael says Littleton agreed that Martha is a “schmoke,” or a hottie, and later that night has him ominously missing from his bedroom. (Littleton, for his part, tells me he never laid eyes on Martha.) More recently Michael accused the late Wittine of having been a Nazi during World War II, unaware that Wittine was Yugoslavian, not German.

We could read Michael’s opportunistic memory as evidence of guilt. Most people probably would. But is that the only way to read it? If we allow ourselves to imagine for a moment that Michael is actually innocent, then the tapes take on a different coloration. His new, improved memory becomes the usual memoirist’s license—imaginatively filling in what can’t be recalled—and the finger pointing becomes the natural reaction of a man on the defensive and looking for answers.

Michael’s alibi remains perhaps the slipperiest and most frustrating piece of this story. When Rushton Skakel, Michael’s father, hired the private investigation firm Sutton Associates in 1992 to get to the bottom of Martha’s murder (he had thought Sutton would draw a bead on Littleton; instead they implicated Michael and Tommy, after which he fired them), John Skakel submitted to hypnosis. Curiously, according to Sutton’s report, John places only his brother Rush and his cousin Jim in the Lincoln and at the Terrien house: “I think it’s just Rush, Jimmy and myself.” On the ride home, John continues not to see Michael, even when prompted. He allows there might be someone else, “but I can only see Rush.” The Sutton report says that Rush also suggested, to psychiatrist and neurologist Stanley Lesse in 1976, that Michael had stayed behind in Belle Haven. (Neither John’s nor Rush’s apparent equivocations could be introduced at the criminal trial. Both men testified that Michael had accompanied them to the Terrien house.)

But there’s also this to consider: When the Lincoln pulled away from Belle Haven, according to police interviews conducted the day Martha’s body was found, four kids remained in the Skakel yard: Tommy, Martha, and their neighborhood friends Geoffrey Byrne and Helen Ix. Where was Michael if not en route to the Terrien house? One supposes he could have slipped away from the crowd unnoticed. But why? It seems too early for him to have concealed himself outdoors in anticipation of Tommy and Martha’s rendezvous—especially given that we know Tommy went back inside the house before meeting Martha somewhere in the depths of the back lawn.

And now we have Denis Ossorio pinning Michael into place up on Cliffdale Road. There’s no reason to question Ossorio’s honesty; his memory is another matter. He mistakenly puts John Terrien, Jimmy’s older brother, on Cliffdale Road that night when nobody has ever suggested he was there, and Michael himself said explicitly that John was “away somewhere.” If Ossorio is wrong about John Terrien, then he could be wrong about Michael Skakel.

Meanwhile questions abound. Ossorio says he was aware of Michael’s legal travails—arrest, trial and conviction. Why did he not come forward? Did he lack any sense of his importance as an alibi witness? Did he never tell friends that Michael couldn’t have killed Martha, because he, Denis, was with him at the likely hour? (At the habeas corpus trial, Ossorio explained that he followed the case but not too closely. I sent a letter to his Rye Brook address requesting an interview: no reply.) Finally, how is it that Rush, John and Jimmy all failed to remember seeing Ossorio at the Terrien house, there by the TV, when Sherman asked them at trial who was present in the room?

After studying this case for two decades, I’ve come to think that almost every piece of information is capricious, variable, readable in two ways. The problem of memory is one thing that makes it so. We want thirty or forty-year-old memories to exist in pristine condition, whether from Ossorio or from the Élan witnesses, but this just isn’t possible. “Memory is malleable,” Carol Loftus, a renowned memory scholar based at University of California, Irvine, explained to me. “The big problem is that memory fades with the passage of time and becomes increasingly vulnerable to post-event contamination and distortion.” Books, news coverage, conversations, even one’s own inferences can intertwine with actual memories to make them over anew; that is to say, memory is creative. “Once contamination occurs,” Loftus says, “witnesses can still be confident and detailed and emotional about the memories they describe—even if they’re false.”

COLLISION COURSE

This tragic story began early in the Ford administration and continues deep into the Obama years. Martha, fifteen at the time of her murder, would have turned fifty-four on August 16, and probably would be married with kids of her own, already older than she got to be.

Dorthy Moxley and her son, John, have grown tired of the seemingly endless post-conviction process, but they vow to fight on, remaining “100 percent convinced” of Michael Skakel’s guilt. No juror has changed their mind, as sometimes happens, and no compelling new evidence of another perpetrator has emerged. (Some would dispute this, citing the Bryant story. But even Bryant has backpedaled, saying his story had been “blown out of proportion.”)

Michael’s prosecutors have little patience with the notion that Martha’s murder is still a mystery. Yes, the evidence was complicated and required an intelligent jury to follow; but like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, it led to the killer. Judge Bishop might say it led only to the killer’s house. There, two hot-tempered, psychologically damaged teenage brothers vied for Martha Moxley’s affections; there, someone took up a golf club in anger and pursued Martha into her own front yard.

The once-tiny faction that believed Michael innocent or expressed grave doubts about his conviction has grown in recent years to include respected lawyers and journalists. Sometimes they raise good points; other times not. In a 48 Hours report from 2012, CBS’s Lesley Stahl dramatically pumped up the Tony Bryant story without mentioning its fatal problems. Perhaps it was time for an unbalanced news report to go the Skakels’ way. (Skakel is at present suing TV host Nancy Grace and legal correspondent Beth Karas for slander. They reported in 2012 that he left DNA evidence, in the form of sperm, near the crime scene when no such evidence was recovered.)

The only Skakel brother who declined to appear on 48 Hours was Tommy. After his troubled teen years, Tommy built a nice life for himself in Western Massachusetts—Norman Rockwell country—with a wife and three daughters. His LinkedIn profile says he works at a global coal-mining concern headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts. He’s also a volunteer firefighter and—rather incredibly—the coinventor of a patented golf iron. Michael, free on a $1.2 million bond, is reportedly living at a relative’s house in Fairfield County, his whereabouts monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet. He’s often permitted to leave Connecticut to visit his teenage son, George, who lives with his mother in New York State.

One source tells me the two brothers, as in childhood, regard each other anything but warmly. Now they appear to be on a collision course. A new trial, if there is one, would happen in 2016 at the earliest. In the meantime Hubert Santos and his team must walk a fine line. Santos has said publicly that Michael loves his brother and believes him to be innocent of Martha’s murder, but also that he would not hesitate to pursue Tommy in Michael’s defense. How can he not, given Bishop’s decision? It would be inexplicable.

 

 

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