VERNON, Conn. – A murder victim’s friend testified Friday she told Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel’s attorney before his trial that she had heard two other men were responsible for the killing, but he told her that account didn’t appear credible.
Marjorie Walker Hauer said she told lawyer Michael Sherman about Gitano “Tony” Bryant’s claim implicating two friends in the killing of 15-year-old Martha Moxley in 1975. Skakel’s current attorneys have accused Sherman of ignoring the claim as they appeal Skakel’s 2002 conviction, saying he was deprived of his right to effective legal representation.
Skakel earlier sought a new trial based on Bryant’s claim, but a judge also rejected it as not credible.
Skakel is serving 20 years to life in prison for Martha’s golf club bludgeoning when they were neighbours in Greenwich. He is the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel.
Hauer said Sherman told her the claim probably didn’t deserve further investigation. Asked his response, she said, “He was aware of the story and it didn’t seem credible.”
Hauer, who said she heard the account from her brother who was friends with Bryant, said she also told an investigator and the victim’s mother about the claim before the trial. Her brother, Neal Walker, testified that he did not reveal Bryant’s name to Sherman or prosecutors before the trial.
Skakel’s current attorney also argues Sherman was distracted by the limelight surrounded the high-profile case and failed to prepare.
Sherman’s private investigator for the trial, Vito Colucci Jr., took the stand and said Sherman was a good attorney who became consumed by celebrity. Asked if he noticed a change in Sherman, Colucci said, “Can I say Hollywood?”
“I think that took full charge of his life at that point,” Colucci said, describing television appearances, skiing in Vail, Colorado, and walking the “red carpet.”
He recalled seeing a photo of Sherman in a magazine with cellphones on both ears as he was snowboarding.
When a prosecutor questioned witnesses during the trial, Sherman a few times would look back to see television reporters he knew, Colucci said. Sherman was constantly on the phone with the news media, Colucci said.
He said Sherman did not follow up on promising leads or direct him to keep trying to find witnesses. After the trial, investigators working on Skakel’s behalf found a few witnesses who rejected a claim by a classmate at a Maine reform school in the late 1970s that Skakel confessed to the crime and one of those witnesses may have heard it.
Colucci also backed up Skakel’s claim that Sherman was confident of victory, describing an atmosphere of “we can’t lose.”
Skakel’s current attorney also argues that Sherman failed to prepare witnesses. Colucci said witnesses were anxious to talk to Sherman before the trial.
“They were petrified,” Colucci said. “They just wanted to know what’s going to happen on the stand.”
Sherman said he did all he could to prevent Skakel’s conviction and made the case a top priority. He’s touted his cross-examinations of key witnesses and said he spent many hours with witnesses to prepare them.
Sherman denied he was distracted by media attention and said his ability to deal with the media was one of the reasons Skakel hired him.