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Prosecutors fight Kennedy cousin's overturned murder conviction

By Richard Weizel

HARTFORD Conn. (Reuters) - Connecticut prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court late on Friday to reinstate Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's 2002 conviction on a charge of murdering his neighbor when they were both 15. A state judge overturned verdict last year.

The prosecutors, in a 249-page appeal brief, challenged a decision last October by Judge Thomas Bishop ordering a new trial for Skakel. He ruled that Skakel's defense team did not provide adequate representation during his trial in 2002. {ID:nL1N0ID2B7]

"A careful review of the record makes clear that his (Bishop's) disregard of their reasoned, strategic decision is indefensible," prosecutors from the state's attorney's office wrote in their appeal. "Simply put, if the level of representation (Skakel) received falls short of Sixth Amendment standards, no Connecticut conviction can be considered reliable."

Skakel, a 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, was freed last November on a $1.2 million bond after serving 11 years of a in prison for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley in a wealthy neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut. He had been sentenced to between 20 years and life in prison. Moxley was bludgeoned to death with a golf club.

Prosecutors insist Skakel had adequate legal representation during his trial.

But Bishop ruled that Skakel likely would have been acquitted of killing Moxley if Michael Sherman, Skakel's then defense lawyer, had pursued a different defense strategy than the one used, which focused on one alternate suspect, the Skakel family's private tutor, Kenneth Littleton.

Skakel's current lawyers, who say Skakel is innocent, argue there were other suspects, including Skakel's brother Thomas.

Stephan Seeger, one of Skakel's current lawyers, said on Saturday the state's appeal lacks substance.

"When you read it, it's like a kitchen-sink response and doesn't address any of the real issues," Seeger said. "It's just a waste of a 250-page submission. Judge Bishop's decision to overturn the conviction was well reasoned, and, I believe, will be upheld."

He said that credible witnesses could testify that Skakel "was miles away when this happened."

Prosecutors have indicated they will pursue a new trial if their appeal is rejected.

(Editing by Jonathan Allen and Steve Orlofsky)

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