Skakel v. State Of Conn., SC 18158

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date20 April 2010
Docket NumberSC 18158


SC 18158

Supreme Court Of Connecticut.

Argued March 26, 2009.
Officially released April 20, 2010.

Hubert J. Santos, with whom were Hope C. Seeley and Benjamin B. Adams, for the appellant (petitioner).

Susann E. Gill, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom was Jonathan C. Benedict, former state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

Katz, Palmer, Vertefeuille, Zarella and McLachlan, Js.*

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Following his 2002 conviction, after a jury trial, for the 1975 murder of his fifteen year old neighbor, Martha Moxley (victim), the petitioner, Michael C. Skakel, appealed.1 In accordance with the three year limitations period under General Statutes § 52-582, 2 in 2005, while a decision on that appeal was pending, the petitioner filed a petition for a new trial, pursuant to General Statutes § 52-270 (a), 3 on the ground of newly discovered evidence. This court thereafter affirmed the judgment of conviction. See State v. Skakel, 276 Conn. 633, 888 A.2d 985, cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1030, 127 S. Ct. 578, 166 L. Ed. 2d 428 (2006).4 The trial court, Karazin, J., subsequently denied the petitioner's revised substitute petition for a new trial (petition), and this appeal followed.5 The petitioner contends that the trial court improperly concluded that his third party culpability, exculpatory and impeachment evidence was either not newly discovered, not credible or not likely to produce a different result in a new trial even if credible. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the petitioner had not satisfied the prerequisites for a new trial, and, accordingly, we affirm its judgment denying the petition.

The following facts that the jury reasonably could have found on the basis of evidence adduced at the petitioner's criminal trial, as well as the theories the petitioner raised in his defense at trial, were set forth in great detail by this court in our resolution of the petitioner's appeal from the judgment of conviction. The unusual circumstances of this case, its lengthy history, the number of persons involved, the nature of the claims in this appeal and the standard of review applied to claims of newly discovered evidence necessitate their repeating. "Sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. on the evening of Thursday, October 30, 1975, the victim left her home on Walsh Lane, located in the Belle Haven section of [the town of] Greenwich, with a friend, Helen Ix, to play and socialize in and around the neighborhood. It was the night before Halloween, commonly referred to as `mischief night, ' an evening when the neighborhood children were known to engage in playful mischief. The victim and Ix soon were accompanied by other friends who lived nearby. Several times that night, the group stopped by the Skakel home, which was located on Otter Rock Drive.6 The first time they did so, the [petitioner] was dining at the Belle Haven Club with his siblings, Rushton Skakel, Jr., Julie Skakel, Thomas Skakel, John Skakel, David Skakel and Stephen Skakel, their cousin James Dowdle, 7 their tutor Kenneth Littleton, and Julie Skakel's friend Andrea Shakespeare. The Skakel group arrived home from dinner before 9 p.m., at which time the victim and her friends again visited the [petitioner's] house.

"Shortly thereafter, the [petitioner], joined by the victim,

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Ix and [Geoffrey] Byrne, a friend of the victim, entered one of the Skakel family vehicles, a Lincoln Continental, which was parked on the Skakels' side driveway, to talk and listen to music. Thomas Skakel, the [petitioner's] then seventeen year old brother, soon joined the group. Sometime before 9:30 p.m., the group was interrupted by Rushton Skakel, Jr., and John Skakel, who needed to use the Lincoln Continental to drive Dowdle home, where they planned to watch a television program scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Consequently, Thomas Skakel, Ix, Byrne and the victim exited the car. As Ix began to leave the Skakel property with Byrne, she observed Thomas Skakel and the victim engaging in flirtatious horseplay at the other end of the driveway. Feeling `a bit embarrassed by the flirting, ' Ix left to go home.8

"The victim's mother, Dorothy Moxley, expected that the victim would be home that evening by 10:30 or 11 p.m. At about 1:30 or 2 a.m., upon discovering that her daughter had not returned home, she sent the victim's brother, John Moxley, out to look for her. Dorothy Moxley thereafter telephoned anyone who she thought might know the victim's whereabouts, including the [petitioner's] family, whom Dorothy Moxley called several times. Dorothy Moxley's efforts to locate the victim were unsuccessful, and she eventually contacted the Greenwich police department, which dispatched an officer to the Moxley home. The officer made a missing persons report and briefly searched the surrounding area. The next morning, at about 8:30 a.m., Dorothy Moxley, believing that the victim may have fallen asleep in the Skakel family motor home that usually was parked in the Skakels' driveway, went to the [petitioner's] house. The [petitioner] answered the door, appearing `hungover' and dressed in jeans and a Tshirt. The [petitioner] informed Dorothy Moxley that the victim was not at his home, and an inspection of the motor home by a Skakel employee confirmed that she was not there either.

"Later that day, at about noon, a neighborhood friend discovered the victim's dead body under a large pine tree in a wooded area on the Moxley property. The victim was lying facedown, with her pants and panties pulled down around her ankles. Forensic tests revealed that the victim had died from multiple blunt force traumatic head injuries. A large quantity of blood was discovered in two areas in a grassy region approximately seventy feet from the victim's body, with a distinct drag path leading from the pools of blood to the location where the victim's body was found. The victim likely was assaulted at or near the farther end of her circular driveway and then dragged approximately eighty feet to the pine tree under which her body subsequently was discovered. Remnants of the murder weapon, a Tony Penna six iron golf club, also were found at the crime scene. The head of the golf club and an eight

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inch section of its shaft were found on the circular driveway, approximately 116 feet from the area where the large accumulation of the victim's blood was found. Another piece of the shaft was discovered on the grassy area near the two large pools of blood. The remaining part of the shaft attached to the club handle never was found.

"Harold Wayne Carver II, a forensic pathologist and the state's chief medical examiner, testified regarding the findings of the original autopsy performed by then chief medical examiner Elliot M. Gross, also a forensic pathologist. Carver stated that the victim's injuries appeared consistent with having been inflicted by a golf club. In addition to the fatal head injuries, the victim had been stabbed in the neck with a piece of the golf club shaft. According to Carver, Gross had used an ultraviolet light to detect the presence of semen on the victim's pubic region and also had taken vaginal and anal swabs. No semen was found in those areas, however. Nothing in the autopsy report indicated that the ultraviolet light had been applied to the victim's buttocks or to other parts of the victim's body. With respect to the time of death, Carver testified that the victim had been dead for some time before her body was found. He further opined that the time of death more likely was closer to 9:30 p.m. on October 30, 1975, when she was last seen alive, rather than noon the following day, when her body was discovered. Because the autopsy was conducted twenty-four hours after the discovery of the victim's body, a more precise time of death could not be ascertained.

"Henry Lee, a forensic scientist and the former state chief criminalist, reviewed the documents, photographs and physical evidence compiled by the investigators and performed a partial reconstruction of the crime scene. On the basis of his investigation, Lee testified as to the likely nature and sequence of events leading up to the victim's death. In particular, he indicated that the golf club that was used to assault and kill the victim probably had broken into pieces from the force with which the victim had been struck. This force, according to Lee, likely propelled the head of the golf club, and a piece of its shaft, over seventy feet, from the location of the fatal assault to the location inside the circular driveway where those pieces subsequently were discovered. According to Lee, the remaining piece of the golf club shaft then was used as a sharp weapon to stab the victim. Lee further testified that, in light of the amount of blood found on the inside of the victim's jeans and panties, those garments likely were pulled down before the assault occurred. Lee also stated that the absence of vertical blood drippings on the victim's shoes and jeans indicated that the victim was lying on the ground when the perpetrator inflicted the injuries to her head and neck.

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"James Lunney, a detective with the Greenwich police department in 1975, testified that, on the day that the victim's body was discovered, he briefly visited the [petitioner's] home and noticed a barrel containing several items, including golf clubs, in a hallway near the rear of the home. Lunney testified that one of the golf clubs, a Tony Penna four iron, later was seized from the property with the written consent of the...

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