Friday, November 22, 2013

US Judge Startles Legal Watchers By Overturning A Unanimous Verdict: Is This Hellmann Part Deux?

Posted by Peter Quennell

Martha Moxley’s murder 1975

Martha Moxley’s is a case with quite a few similarities to Meredith’s case - and after 38 years it has once again flashed back into the US news.

Greenwich, where 15-year-old Martha lived, is a few minutes drive up the Long Island Sound shoreline from New York City. Great wealth resides there. It is the US zip code with the highest family income and net wealth, and there are many mansions set in large estates.

The brutal murder of Martha happened on Halloween Night of 1975. She was beaten to death with a golf club by someone around 10:00 pm soon after leaving a Halloween party at the Skakel house across the street. No physical evidence ever tied anyone to the crime.

The main suspects in the case

Michael Skakel was a close neighbor (with his large family, he lived in a mansion diagonally across Walsh Lane from Martha’s smaller one-storey house) and a school classmate of the same age as Martha. He had a troubled record of misbehavior and substance abuse (he was later sent to a special school) who Martha’s diary later revealed had a history of pestering her. The golf-club came from the Skakel house.

He was not the only suspect. A new tutor at the house was long considered. And Greenwich police first interviewed and polygraphed his brother Tommy, who was very friendly with Martha, and with whom she was seen flirting at the party at the Skakel’s house the same night. Between the two brothers, there was bad blood.

Read here the final entries in Martha’s diary which seem to show her attraction to Tommy but none at all to a jealous Michael.

Michael Skakel’s conviction in 2002

Michael Skakel over the years (seemingly proud of himself, and sounding quite like Sollecito) came to hint and even openly claim more and more that he was the one that killed Martha. Skakel also claimed to have been up in a tree or a treehouse peeping through windows on the same night. An alibi that he was across town during the party at his house fell through.

In 2002, after these pointers to himself reached critical mass in police investigations and various books and reports, he was put on trial and unanimously found guilty by a jury, and then (controversially) sentenced as an adult to 20 years to life. As with Sollecito and Knox in Italy, the vast majority of the population thought it was a fair cop.

There are of course some differences between the two cases.

In Perugia the police and prosecutors really did do a good job and didnt blink under the considerable pressure of TWO families and TWO defense teams playing all manner of dirty tricks. They never backed off, whereas the Greenwich police (who never called for outside help) seem to have become timid and indecisive and simply wanting the case to go away. And in Martha’s case DNA has not yet reared its intrusive head.

But the two cases also have a lot in common.

Commonalities of Martha and Meredith cases

1) Martha was younger than Meredith but given time would have emerged to be a very similar girl. She also was ambitious, talented, hard-working, eye-catching, witty, and the apple of their eye of various boys which might have sparked jealousies in some.

2) The attack involved a number of ferocious blows over several or some minutes with a golf-club, suggesting not a burglar or prowler who did not know Martha but someone who did know her who was in a considerable rage. The golf-club broke, and the shaft was thrust through her neck. She was then dragged alternatively face up and face down quite a few feet to a place under a tree. There was a lot of blood, and as some of her clothes were down there may have been a simulation of a sex crime.

3) The rich and connected Skakel family (among which Michael did not stand out as the major achiever) was not especially helpful in the investigation, and they blocked certain important moves by the Greenwich police. They have spent huge sums of money (possibly up in the millions) on lawyers and detectives and still do. Theirs was a fairly sharp-elbowed media campaign and it looks as if it was driven more by family reputation (the Skakels are related to the Robert Kennedys by marriage) than by deep conviction that Michael was a good boy.

4) The evidence presented was a mosaic that had been accumulated over time. Alibi and behavior mattered a lot. It required very close attention to absorb it all and to assemble it into an incriminating pattern. At trial prosecutors did a good job. In this case no incriminating DNA was found at all, although it is possible that for the new trial new tests will be done on Martha’s clothes.  The conviction by 12 jurors was unanimous. They did a very careful job, and their deliberations lasted four days. Those who seek to argue that they have it wrong usually pick on isolated points. 

5) Various books have been published to explain the case. The most-read book is by ex-police-detective Mark Fuhrman titled Murder in Greenwich published by HarperCollins (Amanda Knox’s publisher) in 1999. He claimed he broke the case though police said they needed no help.

6) There are several websites like PMF and TJMK with no vested interest at all which seek to keep the victim’s presence alive, and to seek justice for her in face of many attacks and dirty tricks.  See the forum Campy Skakel here and the website MarthaMoxley dot com which is or was being run by Tom Alessi who was a classmate of Martha at school.

And the sudden new situation

Now Connecticut’s Judge Bishop has decided that Skakel didnt get the best of defenses by the high-profile legal talking head Mickey Sherman (who back then seemed to be hired for his high public profile) and noted several things Sherman could have done. Also the evidence seemed to Judge Bishop to be slim (what, no DNA?!). So he has ordered that Skakel can face a new trial.

A second judge has just released Michael Skakel on $1.2 million bail and he must wear an electronic bracelet in case he decides to skip. He will apparently head for a secret location to wait for the new trial to begin.

Although Judge Bishop is well qualified (unlike Hellmann) and seems impartial and detached, he has startled the legal community and crime followers by going against both a well-informed trial jury which really saw a lot of evidence and against a whole row of previous judges who had considered and declined Skakel’s requests for appeal.

Judge-shopping till the “right one” appears is often how big money wins out, and the general US reaction to the annulled verdict seems to be “What?! Not again?!”

Michael Skakel may perhaps win at a new trial with new lawyers and a new strategy - there is still a theory that his brother Tommy really did the crime, though the Skakel lawyers may not be allowed to play that card.

However, as in Meredith’s case, legal and public opinion is against him, and Martha’s mother and the victim websites still fight on bravely. 

[Below: Michael Skakel(right) with defense lawyer Mickey Sherman in 2002 who he now says let him down]

[Below: Directly ahead is where the crime took place; a new mansion has replaced the Moxley home ]

[Below: The Skakel mansion, which is diagonally across Walsh Lane from the old Moxley home]

[Below: Mark Furman’s diagram of his scenario of the murder in “Murder in Greenwich”]

[Below: Judge Bishop of the Connecticut courts who has ordered a new trial for Skakel]

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/22/13 at 04:50 PM in Appeals 2009-2015Hellmann 2011+The legal followups


Pete, wouldn’t Sherman’s duty to competently-defend require him to insist that Skakel tell Sherman him the truth of what really happened?

Suppose Skakel had told Sherman that he was guilty?  Wouldn’t that justify Sherman’s M.O., now alleged to have lacked sufficient zeal?

Doesn’t attorney-client privilege now prevent Sherman from justifying his original M.O.?

Posted by Cardiol MD on 11/23/13 at 06:18 AM | #

This sure is a protracted and well documented case. The judge issued a 136 page report on his decision to require a new trial which comes down heavily on Skakel’s side.

Many think he was too hard on Mickey Sherman who may have fumbled a few points but who had a dog of a client that Mickey may have thought was lying through his teeth. .

The only thing hard to find online is a shot of the Moxley’s original house. Martha’s father didnt last very long after she died; they say that the murder broke his will to live. Her mother sold the house years ago and moved to new Jersey.

Now in her early 80s, she is still tenacious and tireless, a one person band.

Skakel has few of the addled groupies that Knox is plagued with; here’s betting the judge would NOT have sprung him if lots of those loonies were applying pressure. Here are three long documents which help to get a handle on the case.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/23/13 at 06:20 AM | #

Hi Cardiol:

You raise an incredibly interesting point. Mickey Sherman testified in the hearing in Connecticut that he essentially did what was agreed.

The things he was “instructed” to do by Skakel and didnt were very minor, the main one being to not challenge two jurors who might - might - have had prior bias against.

It looks like Sherman was hired to sway public opinion rather than argue the fine points of the law, maybe because all of the Skakel family and team perhaps though he had dropped himself in it way too far.

What Skakel told various people at various times about his role in Martha’s death was astonishing. It reads like Sollecito’s “catch me if you can” backpatting only on steroids.

I did come across the judge’s 136 page report and read a lot of it but I didnt keep the link and couldnt download it. If anyone finds it, could you let us all know?

It read a bit too much like Judge Hellmann to me!  It would be interesting to get some other takes.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/23/13 at 06:30 AM | #

Google Street View doesnt work on Walsh Lane which is within a private compound. Put this in Google Earth Search to see the area from above:

41° 0’33.93"N   73°38’6.38"W

This marker is directly above the former Moxley house, which has been rebuilt and re-landscaped and the former trees among which Martha was attacked are all gone.

The Skakel house can be seen above it, diagonally to the left across the road.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/23/13 at 06:45 AM | #

I read the Mark Fuhrman book, “Murder in Greenwich” years ago and it depicted a troubled Skakel family with Tommy and Michael running amok with poor supervision. Michael’s jealousy at Tommy’s easy success with girls was the sad tinderbox that needed only the match of young, naive Martha.

IIRC, Martha Moxley had only recently moved to the Greenwich neighborhood from California. She was trying to adjust and fit in and was too young and foolish to realize the danger of flirting with these unstable guys. In my old-fashioned dreams it seemed nobody was using much sense with late night parties and unchaperoned women roaming with no clue.

Michael Skakel looked a bit below par in intelligence. IIRC he told one of his groups in some expensive rehab that he killed Martha. The Kennedy name scared everyone and was the clout that drove the political push, probably to re-try the case.

Poor attorney Sherman, he couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Don’t all clients feel their lawyer has “failed” them if he can’t get them off murder charges? These sick perps are lucky anybody will launch a defense for them. RIP Martha Moxley.

Posted by Hopeful on 11/23/13 at 03:02 PM | #

What a bunch of crazies - they do sound like spoiled rich kids with no sense of morals - and where was the parental supervision of these 15 year olds, especially Michael who sounds like he was either on drugs or had definite psychological problems for some time?  Wandering around the neighborhood looking in windows at night? 

I can’t understand why no DNA was found on the murder weapon.  Awful for that girl and her parents.  Hope they can solve the case - I was sure it was Michael until reading that part that Thomas was ‘involved in a sexual encounter’ with Martha while Michael was in the tree.  So strange. Obviously some of the friends had been lying too - they should come clean now about the ‘party’ at the cousin’s house etc.

Posted by believing on 11/23/13 at 03:24 PM | #

This letter from a friend paints a different picture of Michael though.

Posted by believing on 11/23/13 at 03:33 PM | #

Theoretically, Sherman could be reported to the Connecticut Law Licensure Board for misconduct but I very, very, much doubt that anyone would be so brazenly misguided as to lodge such a complaint.

If that happened, Sherman might request to be heard In Camera so that he could circumvent the Attorney-Client Privilege issue.

If Sherman had actually done what he is now accused of negligently Not-Doing, he would still be ‘condemned’ by the FOS.

P.S. Not to drift too-far OT, the false accuser of the Duke Lacrosse (DL) Team, has just been sentenced to jail for the murder of one of her “Boy-Friends”.
The DL Case was an inspiration for TJMK.
It left a corrupt State’s Attorney still-Disbarred in its wake.
The falsely-accused players were Officially declared to be not only Not Guilty, but actually Innocent. They are still stigmatized in some circles.

The DL Case left too many Duke-PC-extremists relatively-unharmed, but also stigmatized.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 11/23/13 at 06:17 PM | #

I just went to the Amanda Knox web site and scrolled down to the “Is Amanda Knox Guilty?” It’s at ‘’

The left hand column is for guilty while the right is for innocent. Reading it just makes you wonder who the people on the right are? they just regurgitate dismissed and proven wrong facts as though just by repeating them makes them right.

Example   “Knox is a victim of terrifying mob prejudice.” etc: They trot out all the old nonsense about a huge conspiracy as though the Italian Government plus the Italian Judiciary are implicated in a mass cover up and thereby hate all Americans.

I find this level of stupidity to be terrifying in and of itself. People like these apologists get the Armed forces into wars ala George Bush because they believe what they are told with no thought to doing any research themselves.

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 11/23/13 at 09:09 PM | #

Tomorrow is 25 November and the start of the final important court hearings in the case against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Will Yummi and Mason2 be attending court again?

Justice for Meredith.

Posted by thundering on 11/24/13 at 09:26 AM | #

Hi Thudering, sure, we will have court reporting on the summations on Monday and Tuesday; the next sessions are 16 and 17 December.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/24/13 at 02:44 PM | #

Hi Pete.

Could you remind us which days are which, please?

25 November - Prosecution
26 November - Maresca
16 December - Knox Defense
17 December - Sollecito Defense


Is that correct?

Posted by thundering on 11/24/13 at 03:03 PM | #

Hi Thundering.

Yes, we are told this is the tentative order. There has been a tendency for the sessions to be short with the last not going beyond the lunch hour, but the prosecution and each defense may each take a full day.

We can look forward to seeing how the defenses get out of the bind they are in. They have lost big on the DNA and Aviello (who at the Hellmann appeal was their witness not the prosecution’s).

So what really is left for them? Seems like what we posted in January 2011 prior to Hellmann still applies to them.

What is the biggest headache for the defenses?

That their areas of appeal, already circumscribed by Judge Hellman, could all explode in their faces? The low-credibility witnesses Alessi and Aviello? The limited DNA retesting? The re-examination of the witness in the park who had no cause to make anything up?

Or that Rudy Guede gets totally ticked off by Alessi’s claims that Rudy Guede said he did it with one or two others, and so Guede tells the court all that REALLY happened?

No, it looks to us that the defenses’ biggest headache by far is that the court of final appeal in Rome (the Supreme Court of Cassation, which is superior to the Perugia appeals court and will hear the second and final appeal) has ALREADY accepted that Rudy Guede’s sentencing report of January 2009 holds up.

And that all three of them attacked Meredith.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/24/13 at 03:34 PM | #

Hi Grahame

That report is very interesting. Not Knox’s wisest move, that website, it is like shooting fish in a barrel and makes her look more guilty not less.

There seems to be a tendency for conspiracy groups to get both more extreme and smaller; I guess the two are related. A few nudge public opinion - more now think something unexplained happened in the death of President Kennedy - but it merely leads to a general erosion of trust in public institutions (just when we really need them) and apathy rather than firm action.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/24/13 at 03:44 PM | #

Yes.  What is left for them?

More Jessica Rabbit stories?

I look forward to the next few court hearings.

The good news is that over on PMF Hugo and The Bard report that serious Editors in London are wisening up to the PR Campaign and have been reading (and taking notes from) McCall’s splendid Wiki.

Apparently they a) knew nothing about the PR Campaign - good grief, what have they been doing! and b) believed all the stories - serious Editors??

Roll on Judgment Day.

Posted by thundering on 11/24/13 at 03:53 PM | #

P.S. What was that book that Bongiorno handed Knox at the end of the Hellmann appeal?

Posted by thundering on 11/24/13 at 03:57 PM | #

@Peter Quennell

“Not Knox’s wisest move”

She is getting typical American advices that are likely to be counterproductive. I feel sad for her. She is pouring money in the wrong pot.

In the US, both the judges and juries are expected to be unprepared. As if they are hearing the story for the first time. It is not so in the Europe and the people are more aware.

And that includes everybody.

Posted by chami on 11/24/13 at 05:20 PM | #

@Peter Quennell

Also compare RS moves that are very strategic. Far better than Amanda’s!

Note the three points:

1. Did not challenge evidences
2. Did not blame others; did not accept any blame
3. He played the suffering card.

In the case you have cited above, even RJ Kennedy’s charm wore off over time. But those days- 40 years back- were really terrible.

Americans will complaint that it is anti-americanism, but basically it is poor strategy when it comes to AK.

Posted by chami on 11/24/13 at 07:52 PM | #

Hi Cardiol

Hopeful and Believing know more than I about Martha Moxley’s case - although it happened only half an hour from where I live and I know Greenwich quite well, I dont know that part of Greenwich (south of the I-95 freeway) and had so much work I wasnt then following any murder cases.

However I was reading to see if I could agree with you that Mickey Sherman could have been a subject for discipline.  His worst action seems to have been to not drag more info into the trial about the strange teacher Littleton who had a history of mental problems and attacks on women.

Here is someone who argues hotly that Littleton did it (a bit too dogmatically for me):  I doubt our psychologists would find a bipolar disorder so murderous, and he would not be the only scapegoat who was smeared. 

But it is also remarked in the Moxley forums that the well connected, high profile Sherman was hired by Michael Skakel’s father in the first place to make the family look good (well, look better) and limited him in some ways.

Both may have decided Michael did it. Kind of the Greenwich Bongiorno? The police do seem to have done most thing right and looked at every main suspect before zeroing in on Michael, but were really stonewalled by the Skakels.

Believing’s link above to something about all the Skakel family’s slaughter of animals on a huge scale for enjoyment didnt make me think he is “kind, gentle and humane”. 

Here is the link again

Posted by Peter Quennell on 11/24/13 at 09:26 PM | #

yes…the clearest association with bipolar states is a greatly increased risk of suicide. There are different figures for this risk, -and for attempted suicide also,- but it is recognised that the risk over the general population is substantially more.
i also lost a friend, a talented artist, through suicide from exactly this.

Posted by SeekingUnderstanding on 11/24/13 at 10:49 PM | #

Hi Pete,

Could Sherman have been a subject for discipline?

Logically, yes, because anyone can file a complaint to the Disciplinary Body (DB), and the DB is obliged to respond.

DBs, being composed of Lawyers, are inclined to dismiss complaints about their colleagues, especially complaints which may well be invalid.

However many are not invalid so some formal investigation may be necessary, with an explanation of the findings.

In this case Judge Bishop ruled that Sherman’s performance was so inadequate that he ordered a new trial, and released Skakel, on bail.

Such alleged inadequacy could definitely justify a DP complaint.

You believe that Sherman’s deficiency was minor, and presumably should be dismissed. I agree.

My point is contained in my original Comment.

I was merely running with the fact that Attorney/Client privilege (ACP) could conceal Sherman’s valid reasons for his original MO and assist a guilty person to manipulate his way to freedom.

The fact that Skakel’s father hired Sherman and paid his bill has consequences, relevant to ACP, and to Conflict-of-Interest, interesting to me, but maybe not to the purpose of TJMK.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 11/25/13 at 12:16 AM | #
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