The news tonight declares that Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel has won a new trial because his criminal defense lawyer did not do enough to provide an effective defense. Robert F. Kennedy was his uncle. Mr. Skakel was convicted of the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975. She was beaten to death with a golf club after she and friends attended a Halloween party at the Skakel home.
Mr. Skakel was convicted in 2002. I actually met Michael Skakel in the fall of 2000 at a reception for incoming students at a New Hampshire school my son and his daughter attended. The word on the street then was that he would be charged, and the word became truth sometime later. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life. Martha Moxley’s death remained "unsolved" until the conviction some 27 years later.
But now about that conviction – you see a criminal defense lawyer has a duty to provide the "effective assistance of counsel" as he represents his or her client. That means more than just going through the motions (forgive the pun). It means the defense lawyer has to work his or her butt off to learn the facts, learn the law and figure out how the two marry-up. It means the lawyer needs, in the words of the Judge ordering a new trial, "attention to detail, an energetic investigation and a coherent plan of defense."
If you are charged with a crime, you don’t need a celebrity, you need a fighter. Someone who will turn over the rocks and figure out how to save your bacon. You need a committed advocate. A beast. Someone who can take a body blow or two and keep advancing. You need a soldier.
And the court in Skakel’s case said Michael did not have that. His lawyer didn’t do that according to the judge. Did he? Can’t say. I wasn’t there.
But you know what this means? Skakel has another chance to find his fighter. He has another chance at convincing a jury he is innocent. I know – he doesn’t have to prove anything as the defendant, but don’t kid yourself. He’s got "some ‘splainin’ to do."
Unless of course, the next appellate court says otherwise. He is still in prison, awaiting the State’s next move and a potential decision on bond reduction.
What should you take away from this news? Two things:
First, choose your lawyer carefully. Insist on someone who will do battle for you, who would lead a party of warriors into Hell to find you. Anything less will not give you the edge you need to stay in the game.
Second, in the words of General Eisenhower, "Never, ever quit."
Skakel has maintained his innocence the entire time. He didn’t get parole at ten years, in part because he would not admit any involvement in Ms. Moxley’s death. He never quit believing and trying to clear his name.
Honestly, most criminal defense lawyers work their cases and try to win. The biggest impediment to being fully prepared is money. You buy time when you buy that lawyer, and the more time you can afford the better your chances of winning.
Got a case? Want to talk? Call us? We focus on building a winning case.