McGovern: Back to slammer for Michael Skakel ‘no win’ for former lawyer
Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel may be heading back to jail for murder because his trial attorney did a good job representing him — a legal irony that has given no solace to his one-time defender, who had his name dragged through the mud throughout the appeals process.
“My client still faces jail. I can’t believe that they are going to put him back in. There is no victory in this for me. There is no win here,” Mickey Sherman, a longtime criminal defense attorney who represented Skakel more than a decade ago, told me late yesterday. “I’m not taking any pleasure in the fact that my reputation is bolstered here.”
A divided Connecticut Supreme Court yesterday reinstated Skakel’s murder conviction in the 1975 slaying of 15-year-old Martha Moxley with a golf club in tony Greenwich. In doing so, the court tossed a lower court ruling that found Sherman didn’t adequately represent Skakel at his 2002 trial where he was sentenced to 20 years to life.
“Because we conclude that the petitioner’s trial counsel rendered constitutionally adequate representation, we reverse the judgment,” wrote Justice Peter T. Zarella, in a 4-3 decision.
Sherman remembers how his strategy was torn apart by Skakel’s appellate attorneys and how he had to take the stand for three days where he had to answer for the apparent mistakes he made at trial. The seasoned defender had a feeling his client could walk after his work was dissected.
But yesterday, he said the unthinkable happened.
“This is the worst of the worst. I lost the case. Then other attorneys looked over everything I did and said there was an ineffective assistance of counsel,” Sherman said. “Then the judge agreed with what they found, but now my client could be going back to jail. All of this happened on my watch.”
Lower court Judge Thomas Bishop excoriated Sherman for his representation, and in a voluminous ruling found a laundry list of issues with how he defended Skakel, now 56. Sherman never discussed reasonable doubt or the presumption of innocence, according to the 2013 ruling.
Bishop was also baffled as to why Sherman never tried to peg Thomas Skakel, Michael’s older brother, as a possible culprit.
“Attorney Sherman’s failure to point an accusatory finger at T. Skakel was and is inexplicable,” Bishop wrote.
But in yesterday’s ruling, the state’s highest court pointed to the fact that Sherman had decades of experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney. They outlined the fact that he worked to establish an alibi, that he discredited witnesses and that he pinned a live-in tutor as a possible culprit.
Prosecutors also defended Sherman’s tactics.
“This strategy failed not because of any fault of Sherman’s, but because of the strength of the state’s case,” prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in court documents.
Now this proud attorney’s reputation is intact. He did his best to defend his client, and the state’s highest court confirmed that.
But there is no victory here for Sherman. His client lost again.
“Nothing is gratifying here,” Sherman said. “I have no mixed feelings here. My allegiance is to Michael Skakel, and it always will be.”