Connecticut state court vacates Kennedy relative murder conviction

Kennedy relative Michael Skakel -- seen here in November 2013 -- had been convicted of the 1975 murder of neighbor Martha Moxley when both he and the victim were 15 years old

New York (AFP) – The top court in the state of Connecticut on Friday vacated the murder conviction of a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy over the violent death of a 15-year-old girl and recommended a new trial, the latest twist in a decades-long legal battle.

The written opinion reverses the court’s own decision in December 2016 which had reinstated the conviction of Michael Skakel, a nephew to the slain former attorney general through his widow Ethel.

Martha Moxley was killed in 1975, her body found under a tree after a pre-Halloween party on the Skakel family’s Belle Haven estate. Skakel, who was also 15 years old at the time, was found guilty in 2002 of her murder.

The Skakel family has spent years and millions of dollars, appealing the verdict. In 2013, he was released on a $1.2 million bail when a judge granted him a new trial based on claims that he had been inadequately represented.

On Friday, the Connecticut high court said it now agreed that there had been “inadequate performance” and that he was “entitled” to a new trial.

The decision was immediately welcomed by Skakel’s new defense attorney.

“This has been a long road for Michael and we are grateful to the court for its ruling today,” Hubert Santos said in a statement.

The New York Times reported that prosecutors will now have to decide whether to try the case again.

Moxley’s body was found under a tree after a pre-Halloween party on the Skakel family Belle Haven estate.

There were no witnesses to the murder and no hard forensic evidence. A golf club used in the murder was later traced to a set once owned by Skakel’s late mother.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of people who said they heard Skakel confess and boast that his famous family connections would prevent him from being brought to justice.

Robert F. Kennedy, brother to president John F. Kennedy, was a leading candidate to be the Democratic party’s 1968 presidential nominee when he was murdered in June of that year.