US & Canada

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel granted new murder trial

Michael Skakel seen in a Connecticut court on 18 April 2013
Image caption Michael Skakel, seen in a Connecticut court on 18 April, has denied he killed 15-year-old Martha Moxley

A relative of the prominent US Kennedy family has been granted a new trial in the 1975 beating death of a girl.

Michael Skakel, whose aunt Ethel was the widow of Robert Kennedy, was found guilty in 2002 of killing his teenage neighbour with a golf club.

On Wednesday a judge in the US state of Connecticut found Mr Skakel's lawyer had failed to represent him adequately.

Mr Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He has maintained his innocence.

"We're very, very thrilled,'' Mr Skakel's lawyer Hubert Santos told reporters.

Mr Santos said he planned to seek Mr Skakel's release on Thursday, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Prosecutor John Smriga told the Associated Press he planned to appeal against the decision overturning the conviction.

'Triggered rage'

Mr Skakel, 52, appealed against his 2002 conviction on the grounds that his trial attorney was negligent in defending him in the death of 15-year-old Martha Moxley.

But prosecutor Susann Gill has said the state has compelling evidence of motive as well as three confessions and other incriminating statements made by Mr Skakel.

"His drug-addled mental state, coupled with the infuriating knowledge that his hated brother Tommy had a sexual liaison with Martha, and the fact that Martha spurned his advances, triggered the rage which led him to beat her to death with a golf club,'' Ms Gill wrote.

The battered body of Moxley, who lived near the Skakel family in wealthy Greenwich, Connecticut, was found on the lawn of her parents' house.

She had been bludgeoned with a golf club - later traced to a set owned by Mr Skakel's mother - and stabbed in the neck with the shaft of the club.

There were no witnesses or forensic evidence, but several people later testified that they had heard Mr Skakel confess to the crime.

One witness previously quoted him as saying: "I'm going to get away with murder, because I'm a Kennedy."

The Kennedys were one of the most prominent families in 20th Century US politics.

Joseph Kennedy was US ambassador to Britain under President Franklin Roosevelt. His son John Kennedy was president 1961-63, and his other sons Robert and Edward were senators.

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