By Richard Weizel
STAMFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who spent 11 years in prison for the 1975 murder of a teenage neighbor in Greenwich, Connecticut, walked free on Thursday after a judge granted him bail ahead of a new trial.
Skakel, 53, was convicted in 2002 of murdering neighbor Martha Moxley when they were both 15. But a judge last month ordered a new trial, finding that Skakel's lawyer had been ineffective.
Dressed in a dark suit, Skakel stood quietly in court in Stamford, Connecticut, on Thursday as Judge Gary White set his bail at $1.2 million, sparking a round of applause from supporters who had packed the courtroom.
"There were two tragedies we are addressing today," his new attorney, Hubert Santos, told reporters after Skakel emerged from court. "The first was the death of Martha Moxley. The second was in Superior Court when Michael Skakel was committed for a crime he did not commit ... We hope this is the start of ensuring his freedom."
Skakel did not comment before he was driven away in a dark blue sedan. The judge told Skakel not to leave the state of Connecticut and to wear a GPS tracking device while out on bail.
The nephew of Ethel Kennedy and slain U.S. senator Robert Kennedy, Skakel last month was granted a new trial by Superior Court Judge Thomas Bishop in Rockville, Connecticut.
Bishop overturned Skakel's murder conviction for bludgeoning Moxley to death with a golf club. There were other suspects in the case, in which Moxley's body was dumped on her parents' lawn.
Bishop ruled Skakel had an inadequate defense at his first trial and criticized his former lawyer, Michael Sherman, for his "glaring ineffectiveness."
'OVERWHELMING AND DISAPPOINTING'
Moxley's mother and brother told reporters they were disappointed in the ruling.
"It's kind of overwhelming and disappointing, but we will take it as it comes," said Dorothy Moxley, adding that she was not afraid of Skakel. "He was just a kid who had problems, but he was still a convicted murderer."
Bridgeport State's Attorney John Smriga had argued in court that the judge should have set bail as high as $2 million.
"I will remind the court that Mr. Skakel was convicted of murder and has never been found innocent," Smriga said.
Santos countered that his client did not represent a flight risk, saying: "He is one of the most recognizable faces in the country."
Skakel's family issued a statement praising the ruling: "This is the first step in correcting a terrible wrong. We look forward to Michael being vindicated and justice finally being served. We are thankful to God that after 11-1/2 years he will be reunited with his son. We are grateful for the love and prayers of Michael's many supporters who have sustained him through this ordeal."
Skakel has a 14-year-old son, his lawyer said.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Gunna Dickson)