Skakel Gets 20 Years to Life

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was sentenced today to 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 bludgeoning death of 15-year-old Martha Moxley.

Skakel, the 41-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, was convicted of murder on June 7.

In pleading for leniency, Skakel told the court he could not apologize for a crime he had not committed.

"I would love to be able to say I did the crime so that the Moxley family could have peace," a sobbing Skakel said. "But to do that would be a lie."

He spoke about his faith in God and said "his laws tell me I cannot bear false witness against anybody or myself."

He faced a minimum of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life for the death of Moxley, who lived next door to the Skakel family in an affluent neighborhood in Greenwich, Conn.

Claims of Innocence Prompt Harsher Sentence

Norwalk Superior Court Judge John Kavanewsky Jr. said Skakel's refusal to take responsibility for the crime led him to impose a more severe sentence.

"For the past 25 years or more … the defendant has been living a lie about his guilt," the judge said. "The defendant has accepted no responsibility, he has expressed no remorse."

Dorthy Moxley, the mother of the slain girl, had said she hoped to hear Skakel apologize on the stand. On Wednesday she asked Kavanewsky to give Skakel a severe sentence.

Today she said she was satisfied with the outcome of the trial.

"Twenty years to life seems reasonable; it really does," she told reporters outside the courtroom.

"I have no doubt that he was the one who killed Martha."

Martha Moxley's brother, John, described Skakel's statement as "too little, too late." He said he was unimpressed with Skakel's references to his belief in God.

"I think part of being a good Catholic is confessing to your sins, not lying about them," he said.

He said he hoped Skakel would make the best of his life.

"One of the things that's really sad is that there's probably a lot of good in Michael," John Moxley said.

"I hope that in prison he'll continue to be a counselor to people," he said, referring to Skakel's work as a substance-abuse counselor.

Defense Had Asked for New Trial

Also on Wednesday, Kavanewsky rejected the defense team's request for a new trial, based on their assertion that the prosecution withheld key evidence during the trial.

Skakel's lawyers argued prosecutors improperly withheld a police sketch that suggested someone else could have killed Moxley. The sketch, defense attorneys said in their motion, resembled a former suspect in the case, Kenneth Littleton, the Skakels' live-in tutor.

"One of the defenses pursued at trial involved a claim that Kenneth Littleton may have been the killer," the defense motion said. "Disclosure of the composite drawing would have been the linchpin for such a defense, and in all likelihood would have resulted in a verdict of not guilty."

The defense motion also accused prosecutors of not disclosing reports by a state investigator detailing alleged evidence against Littleton and Skakel's older brother, Thomas.

Prosecutors insisted the sketch and other evidence were available to the defense and would not have altered the outcome of the trial.

Could Get Time Off for Good Behavior

Skakel's incarceration could possibly be cut in half because Connecticut sentencing rules that were in effect at the time of Moxley's slaying allow time off for good behavior. Those same sentencing rules also make Skakel eligible for parole.

Both these guidelines have since been abolished in Connecticut.

Moxley's body was found in the early hours of Oct. 31, 1975, on her family's Greenwich estate. Police said the 15-year-old was beaten to death with a golf club from the Skakel home, which was next door to the Moxley house.

Prosecutors convinced jurors in June that Skakel, who was also 15 at the time of the murder, had been competing with his brother Thomas for Moxley's affections and that Michael clubbed the girl to death when she rejected his sexual advances.

Skakel's conviction surprised many courtroom observers because prosecutors did not have any physical evidence linking him to the killing and there were no eyewitnesses.

Because of the time that had passed since the slaying and the lack of physical evidence, prosecutors had to rely largely on circumstantial evidence. Over the course of 27 years, some evidence was not preserved, potential witnesses died and the memories of living witnesses were open for challenge.

Prosecutors: Skakel Convicted by His Mouth

During the trial, prosecutors said Skakel had confessed to Moxley's slaying on numerous occasions over the years to several different people. Prosecutors had to rely on the memories of Skakel's former classmates at the Elan School in Maine, a residential substance-abuse treatment center for teens.

Several testified that they remembered hearing a troubled Skakel confess to killing Moxley or say he thought he might have killed her. Sherman challenged the memories of these witnesses, questioning their motives and their reasons for waiting so long to come forward with information.

Skakel's conviction was also an emotional victory for the Moxley family, especially Martha's mother, who had long lobbied police to keep investigating her daughter's case.