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Kennedy cousin tries to get murder conviction tossed

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is trying to get his 2002 murder conviction overturned by arguing that his trial attorney failed to defend him competently against weak evidence, reigniting a long-simmering debate over the strength of the sensational case.

A trial starts Tuesday in Rockville Superior Court in the latest appeal by Skakel, 52, nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel. Skakel is serving 20 years to life for the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of his Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley, when they were 15.

Skakel, who has lost a series of appeals over the years and a bid for parole last year, is hoping to get out of prison through a writ of habeas corpus arguing he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal representation when Michael Sherman was his attorney.

Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother, said she will attend the trial. She said there is no new evidence and she hopes it will be the last appeal because it brings back painful memories.

"There are things that you put out of your mind and you don't want to think about, but it all comes back," Moxley said, her voice breaking.

Skakel's current attorney, Hubert Santos, argues that his client's conviction is based on two witnesses of dubious credibility who claimed Skakel confessed to the crime. He contends the verdict probably would have been different if Sherman had conducted an appropriate investigation, obtained evidence and challenged inappropriate state evidence.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Skakel's cousin who is listed as a potential witness for the trial, believes Skakel should have been exonerated.

"It was a 27-year-old crime that had an army of suspects with evidence against them much more formidable than the evidence against Michael," Kennedy said.

Prosecutors have long bristled over arguments the evidence was weak. Skakel's conviction came after more than a dozen witnesses testified that he made incriminating statements, including three direct confessions, prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in court papers.

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