NORWALK, Conn., Aug. 29 (UPI) -- A judge Thursday sentenced Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel to 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley when they were teenage neighbors in Greenwich, Conn.
Norwalk Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. said the main factor in his decision to sentence Skakel to a prison term close to the maximum 25 years to life was Skakel's refusal to admit he committed the crime.
"For the past 25 years and more, well into his adult life, the defendant has been living a lie," the judge said. "Most important, this defendant has accepted no responsibility."
Kavanewsky said he took into consideration the fact that Skakel, 41, was 15 years old at the time of the murder, his "dysfunctional upbringing" in a home without a mother and with an alcoholic father, Skakel's overcoming his alcoholism, and his many acts of kindness and assistance to others.
"But in the court's view, mitigating circumstances only carry the defendant so far in this case," the judge said. "This murder was not only violent, it was especially vicious."
Moxley was beaten with a golf club on the night of Oct. 30, 1975, and repeatedly stabbed with its broken shaft. Her bludgeoned body was found the following day on the lawn of her home in the fashionable Belle Haven section of Greenwich, across the street from the back yard of the Skakel mansion.
Kavanewsky imposed the sentence after Skakel stood before the judge and delivered a rambling, 10-minute plea for leniency.
"I just want you to know I pray for you, your honor," Skakel said. "I pray for this whole court. I pray for the media. ... I pray for the Moxley family every single day."
Skakel appeared calm when he began speaking, but he soon lost his composure and delivered most of his speech in a sobbing voice, tears running down his cheeks. He made many references to his relationship to God, to his 3-year-old son George, to his childhood problems and how he overcame them as an adult.
"I have been accused of a crime that I would love to be able to tell them that I did, so that (turning to the Moxleys) the Moxley family could have rest and peace, but I cannot do that," Skakel told the judge. "To do that would be a lie before my God, who I have to live with through eternity. He's always told me I can't bear false witness."
He also blamed former Los Angeles Police detective Mark Fuhrman for wrecking his life.
Fuhrman, who gained notoriety in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, wrote a book about the Moxley slaying in which he named Skakel as the prime suspect. Skakel was arrested in January 2000 after Fuhrman's book and some newspaper accounts brought increased attention to the case.
Skakel said the book caused him to lose his job helping addicts in the Soviet Union and made it impossible to get another job.
"I didn't have a job because of this man over here, Mr. Fuhrman, wrote a book about me filled with lies," Skakel said, pointing toward the author in the packed courtroom.
After the hearing, Fuhrman said he felt complimented by Skakel's statement. "It didn't embarrass me," he said. "It didn't shake me. I'm glad he singled me out. I would've said 'Thank you,' but we were in court."
When he stood up to hear Kavanewsky's sentence, Skakel's tears were gone and he listened without noticeable reaction. After the sentencing, the judge rejected a defense request for bail pending appeal and Skakel was led from the courtroom in shackles. He smiled briefly at his family and friends on his way out.
There was no visible reaction from either side immediately after the sentencing. For a short period after the court adjourned, neither the prosecutors, the Moxleys, nor their supporters even smiled. The defense team and the Skakel supporters were grim-faced.
Dorthy Moxley, 70, the victim's mother, said she had "no doubt" that Skakel killed her daughter, and that the sentence of 20 years to life "seems reasonable."
While saying it is her nature to have sympathy for everyone, Dorthy Moxley said, "I still feel he has to be punished for what he's done to Martha."
She said she was disappointed Skakel failed to apologize for the crime.
Although Skakel was a juvenile at the time of the slaying, he was tried and convicted on June 7 of first-degree murder as an adult and was subjected to adult sentencing standards that were in effect at the time of the murder. Under those 1975 standards, Skakel will be eligible for parole in about 11 years and 8 months, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict said after the court hearing.
Several Skakel supporters took the stand as character witnesses Thursday, urging the judge to impose a lighter sentence for the man they said was caring, compassionate and helpful to others with addictions.
"I am proud to be the brother of Michael Skakel and I always will be," said his brother, John, who had testified that Skakel was with him on a visit to a cousin's home on the night of the murder. "I have never known Michael to be violent towards any other people. ... Most of the people who write about Michael in newspapers, magazines and books, they all seem to have at least one thing in common -- they have not met Michael in person. ... He is a very kind and generous person."
Defense attorney Michael Sherman, arguing that Skakel had turned his life around, urged the judge to show leniency by imposing a minimum sentence of 10 to 15 years. In most sentencing arguments from defense lawyers, Sherman pointed out, the lawyers say their client is determined to turn his life around and avoid crime. In Skakel's case, Sherman said, he could say that his client has already done that in the 27 years since the murder.
During a long speech of more than 90 minutes, Sherman said Skakel went through a "tremendous reformation on his own," overcame his addiction to alcohol and has never relapsed despite having the murder charge hang over his head in recent years. He has overcome a late diagnosis of dyslexia and, after his experience of abuse at the Elan reform school in Maine, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Sherman said.
"His childhood, while one of great privilege, also appears to be one of considerable neglect and abuse," Sherman said. "Granted, his father wasn't selling crack on the streets ... but that didn't make it any less a hell in Belle Haven. ... You cannot equate affluence with happiness."
The attorney quoted a probation officer's pre-sentencing investigation report that said, "Michael Skakel does not pose a threat to society. He appears to be an entirely different person today than he was at age 15."
Sherman also read long excerpts of a letter that Skakel cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had written on his behalf. Kennedy wrote that Skakel hunted but did not torture small animals, as has been reported, and said Skakel is a generous, kind man with an infectious personality. Skakel helped Kennedy conquer his own addiction problems in 1983, he said.
Benedict said in his own sentencing argument that the murder was one of the most brutal he had ever prosecuted.
"It was chilling, it was cold-bloodedly evil, and given that," Benedict said, "we can only urge that the court pursue the maximum sentence."
Benedict conceded that Skakel helped a lot of people in his life and was a good father to his 3-year-old son, George, and had conquered his own substance abuse problems.
But, the prosecutor said, "We submit that that has absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Martha Moxley."
Benedict also conceded that it was true that Skakel intervened on behalf of people with alcohol and drug addictions, but said the state thinks "that without Michael Skakel's intervention with Martha Moxley, she would not be dead today."
(Reported by Dave Haskell in Boston)