By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
VERNON, Conn. (AP) _ The former attorney for Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel defended his handling of his murder trial in 2002, saying Wednesday that he felt he had destroyed the credibility of a star witness who testified Skakel confessed to the crime.
While Michael Sherman said the case was his top priority, Skakel’s current attorney played a tape of a talk Sherman gave in Las Vegas in an effort to bolster his argument that Sherman was caught up in the celebrity of the case and failed to prepare.
Sherman took the stand in Rockville Superior Court in Connecticut on the second day of Skakel’s appeal. Sherman faces accusations he failed to competently defend Skakel, who was convicted in 2002 of the golf club bludgeoning of his neighbor Martha Moxley in 1975, when they were both 15.
Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, is hoping to get out of prison by arguing he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal representation when Sherman was his attorney.
Skakel’s current defense argues Sherman didn’t do enough to challenge the credibility of Gregory Coleman, who testified Skakel confessed when they attended Elan reform school in Maine in the late 1970s.
Coleman said at a hearing before Skakel’s trial that Skakel confessed to killing Moxley and said he would get away with murder because “I’m a Kennedy.” Coleman admitted to being high on heroin during his grand jury appearance and he died in 2001 after using drugs, but his testimony was read into the record during Skakel’s trial.
“I don’t think I ever did better with a witness,” Sherman said of his cross examination.
Constance Marayanan testified Wednesday that she was beaten by Coleman at Elan. She also said Skakel was beaten at the reform school.
Sherman said he sought Marayanan’s testimony during the trial but her father said she was too traumatized. Skakel’s current attorney, Hubert Santos, questioned why he didn’t have her subpoenaed, but Sherman said he decided on humanitarian grounds not to call her and was able to get testimony about brutality at Elan through other witnesses.
Hubert Santos also reviewed a series of trips Sherman took from 1998 through 2001.
“What you were doing was making the trips ostensibly to investigate the Skakel matter, but what you were really doing was having a good time,” Santos said.
Sherman said preparing for the case was his top priority. He said the trips were to meet with Skakel, who was then living in Florida, and others involved in the case.
Sherman confirmed that he had his motorcycle shipped down to Florida for one of his trips. “I did it so I didn’t have to rent a car,” he said.
Santos played a tape of a speech Sherman gave to defense lawyers in Las Vegas in 2001 on handling the media in high-profile cases.
“I’m only going to talk about one case and having fun with it,” Sherman said on the tape. “I probably have too much fun.”
On the recording, Sherman said he was reluctant to do one magazine interview, but when offered any location for it, he suggested the Academy Awards “and all the cool parties.” Santos said that showed Sherman traded an interview to get tickets to the Academy Awards.
Sherman recounted in the speech extensive media coverage of the case, including his television interviews with Katie Couric and others and discussed his plans to have Skakel make a comment to the victim’s mother during his first court appearance. Santos said those conversations between Skakel and Sherman were confidential.
Sherman said outside the hearing that there was nothing inappropriate about his speech.
Skakel has lost two appeals before the Connecticut Supreme Court. He is serving 20 years to life in prison.
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