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Last week was supposed to be the prosecution’s turn in the spotlight at the reasonable cause hearing for socialite Michael Skakel, accused of murdering his Greenwich, Conn., neighbor Martha Moxley 25 years ago. Instead, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Sherman stole the show with a fusillade of questions hammering one point: the prosecution’s witnesses all seem to have a problem with telling the truth. As Skakel’s former Elan School classmate John D. Higgins tried to rattle the defendant with intense, nasty glares on the witness stand at the start of the hearing in Stamford, Sherman came right back with his own brand of intimidation during cross examination. “Didn’t you state [in a former police interview] that you ‘live and die by the truth?’” Sherman pressed Higgins while trying to establish a shaky credibility of the witness. “Yes,” Higgins quickly answered to Sherman. “Then why did you lie?” Sherman questioned. ” I thought you lived and died by the truth.” “I lied �by not letting all of the truth out�it could be considered lying,” Higgins said. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone about this.” After Sherman forced Higgins to admit he lied to then-State Attorney inspector Frank Garr during a taped interview, Sherman played upon Higgins’ arrogance and defensive nature on the stand, resulting in teary eyes for Skakel and possible credibility questions for the witness in front of Judge Maureen Dennis. Because Skakel was 15 years old at the time of the murder, the case is currently being tried in Juvenile Court, although prosecutors want the case transferred to Superior Court. A juvenile conviction for the 39-year-old Skakel could mean up to four years in prison. If Skakel is tried and convicted as an adult, he would face a sentence of 25 years to life. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE In addition to the courtroom trial, Skakel – a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy – is also being tried in the media. Sherman’s defense tactics seemed to be two-pronged: to destroy the credibility of prosecution witnesses and to do so in a way that blunts the media glare against his client. Most legal experts agree the term “legal nightmare” is fitting to the Skakel case. Prosecutors have no physical evidence tying Skakel to the murder; their case is based on recollections from Skakel’s former classmates about whether he ever admitted to them that he committed the crime. But the Elan School, by all accounts, was a private facility where parents would send troubled youths – many of whom had run ins with the law or who had emotional problems, and who therefore may supply dramatic, but not necessarily credible, testimony against Skakel. If those witnesses were problematic, lead prosecutor Jonathan C. Benedict wasn’t showing it, displaying a patient and relaxed demeanor in the courtroom. “It’s a preliminary hearing,” Benedict said. ” We’re doing fine. We’ve got a long way to go.” But while Benedict may show confidence, others aren’t as sanguine. Stamford attorney Allan F. Friedman clearly sided with Benedict, but said he thought Skakel would eventually get off. “As a lawyer I see how the cards are stacked,” Friedman said. “I don’t see how they could convict [Skakel]. To get him, everything would have to go the state’s way.” Westport Attorney Christina Sippel, from the law firm of Bruce Corrigan, said she could relate to both Sherman and Benedict’s predicament. “The fact that he [Skakel] made a conscious choice to avoid coming forward�” Sippel pondered. “Of course as long as there is enough evidence… [But] I am not sure there will be.” It is Sherman’s job to convince Judge Dennis that there is not evidence to bring Skakel to trial. His tactic-demonstrated repeatedly last week-is to slash through the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. Former Elan student Gregory Coleman testified Tuesday that Skakel told him he beat Moxley’s skull in with a golf club after she rejected his romantic advances. He said Skakel told him: “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.” But during cross-examination Wednesday, Coleman admitted that he had told the grand jury that Skakel confessed to him five times, when actually he only confessed to him twice. Coleman also said that he heard Skakel admit to the murder during a “primal scream” group therapy session. Coleman admitted he sometimes has trouble with his ability to recall. But he adamantly stood by his testimony that Skakel told him he killed Moxley. Sherman also highlighted Coleman’s longstanding drug and alcohol abuse, and ran through Coleman’s criminal record, including a 1983 conviction for robbery and a 1999 conviction for trespassing. Coleman is serving a year in prison on that count. In other testimony Wednesday, a childhood friend testifying for prosecutors said that Skakel admitted being at the scene where Moxley was murdered. Andrew Pugh said Skakel told him years later that he had masturbated in a pine tree in Moxley’s yard the night she was murdered, Oct. 30, 1975. It was the same pine tree Moxley’s bludgeoned body was found under the next morning, Pugh said. Pugh said Skakel told him he had been in the pine tree masturbating the night Moxley was killed, “but that he had nothing to do with her death.” That account is similar to what Skakel told a private investigative firm hired by his family in the early 1990s. In interviews with Sutton Associates, Skakel changed the story he originally gave to police. He originally said he was at his cousin’s house at the time investigators believe Moxley was killed. But he told Sutton Associates that after he returned home that night, he climbed a tree outside Moxley’s window, threw rocks to awaken her and masturbated in the tree. He said he ran home when he heard voices. Former classmate John D. Higgins testified that Skakel “related to me that he had been involved in a murder�He was in the garage and had gotten a golf club and was running through the woods, and remembers pine trees and then he blacked out.” Higgins also stated that Skakel said he woke up in his house the next day and made mention of a party. “He didn’t know whether he did it, he couldn’t remember” Higgins testified. “At the end he said, “I did it.” Sherman pushed back at Higgins’ account, however, pointing out that there was no garage at the Skakel property at the time. Sherman then went on to question why Higgins did not come forward to the Moxley family or to the police sooner, implying that Higgins only did so after learning that there was renewed interest in the case, including a $50,000 reward. An Associated Press report was included in this story.

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