NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 28 (UPI) -- A judge Wednesday refused to throw out the murder conviction of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, then listened to the victim's family describe their loss and extended Skakel's sentencing hearing for another day.
Skakel, 41, was convicted in June of murdering Martha Moxley in 1975 when they were 15-year-old neighbors in Greenwich, Conn. The pretty and popular girl was beaten to death with a golf club near her home.
After hearing arguments over four defense motions for a new trial, Norwalk Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. rejected them all. Skakel's sentencing hearing then began with victim impact statements from the dead girl's family and friends.
"I think he should spend the rest of his life in jail," the dead girl's mother, Dorthy Moxley, 70, said, urging the judge to sentence Skakel to the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
"I have spent almost 27 years of hell and anguish trying to live what some would think of as a normal life but stressed to the limit trying to find truth and justice," she said, her voice quavering throughout her statement.
"It is so hard for me to think of the way Martha died and how frightened she could have been," she said. "For years I prayed that she did not see the first blow from the golf club coming and that she died immediately after that first blow. I couldn't stand the thought of her suffering. I know now that isn't the way that it happened. I know now that she must have been very frightened and suffered a great deal."
The clash of wills between the Moxley and Skakel families became more dramatic when Moxley blamed the Skakel family for delaying the investigation and making it "almost impossible." At that point, Skakel's sister, Julie, tearfully rushed out of the courtroom.
The victim's brother, John Moxley, recalled the day his mother told him that Martha was dead. "I have never seen my mother in so much pain, and I never felt more completely inadequate in terms of my ability to comfort my mother or to protect my little sister."
"My mother cried all the time for a while, and the intensity of her emotions was frightening to me," he said. He also called for the maximum sentence.
Skakel, looking paler and about 20 pounds lighter after more than two months in prison, sat impassively during the statements. Earlier he was seen crying as he talked to family members during a recess. Each time Skakel entered the packed courtroom, about 25 of his supporters and relatives stood up as a sign of support. At one point, a supporter called out to him, "We love you, Michael!"
Skakel's acquaintances and family have given the court such powerful endorsements of his character and actions that they impressed even the lead prosecutor, Jonathan Benedict.
Outside the courthouse, Benedict said he had received Skakel's presentencing investigation report, compiled by state probation officials.
"I was extremely impressed and touched by them," Benedict said of the comments given to the probation officers. "I was really moved."
Several of Skakel's friends and acquaintances also spoke as part of the hearing, describing Skakel and some of the good deeds he has done over the years.
Shannon Hayden told the judge that years ago she had approached Skakel for help with an alcoholic brother. Skakel responded with enormous help, although he was only an acquaintance at the time, she said. After Skakel and her family had fallen out of touch years later, Hayden's brother relapsed and she called Skakel again. Again he helped fix the situation, she said.
"I truly believe that without Michael's help, my brother would not be here today," Hayden said. "Michael used these last 20 years well. ... He touched my family in an amazing way, for which I will forever be grateful."
Additional statements, along with sentencing arguments from both prosecutors and the defense, are scheduled for Thursday. Skakel also has the right to speak on his own behalf.
Speaking to reporters, Moxley said he and his mother had always tried to be civil with the Skakels, although they accuse the Skakel family of covering up the crime.
Part of the arguments made by Skakel's lawyers was that the defense was never provided with a police sketch of a man described by a security guard in the neighborhood where the murder took place. The guard told police the man seemed suspicious on the night of the murder. Police later thought they had identified the man as someone other than Littleton and ruled him out as a suspect.
The sketch looked very much like Kenneth Littleton, a tutor in the Skakel household who defense lawyers called the likely murderer. Littleton, who had just started working for the Skakels the day before the murder, was ruled out as a suspect by investigators years later.
With the sketch, the jury might well have acquitted Skakel, or at the very least it might have been unable to come to a decision, said Hubert Santos, one of the defense attorneys who is handling Skakel's appeal.
Not handing over the sketch and other information to defense lawyers "amounts to prosecutorial misconduct," Santos told the judge.
Kavanewsky said he agreed with prosecution arguments that the sketch had been described in documents that had been provided to the defense. Since the security guard was never called as a witness, the sketch would not have been allowed as evidence in any event, the judge said.
Skakel's lawyer for the trial, Michael Sherman, argued that the computerized audio-visual presentation during closing arguments was a "subliminal messaging" technique of convincing the jury because it flashed pictures of the victim's body onto a screen as a prosecutor read statements from Skakel.
"I think it would be terrific ... if you're selling cars," Sherman said.
Assistant State's Attorney Susan Gill countered that a prosecutor is entitled to hold up pictures while during closing arguments, and having the pictures projected onto the screen was simply an easier way of showing them to the jury. There was nothing subliminal about the process, she said.
After the court hearing, Benedict scoffed at Sherman's argument. "There's a rumor that five jurors bought Chevy trucks the next day," he joked. "I think the defense would be much happier if we used daguerreotypes instead -- but this is the 21st century."
Kavanewsky must follow state sentencing rules in effect in 1975, which allow a sentence as short as 10 to 25 years in prison. With credit for good time and time served, Skakel then could be released after serving about six years.
Under the maximum sentence, 25 years to life, he could be released after serving about 13 years. Skakel's attorneys have argued that corrections officials rarely grant parole to murderers.
Skakel is divorced from his wife, Margot, but they have joint custody of their son, George, who turns 4 in December.