Skakel v. Warden
To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must establish: 1.) counsel's representation was below an objective standard of reasonableness; and 2.) counsel's performance prejudiced the defense. In 1975, Martha Moxley, 15, was bludgeoned to death. One of Moxley's neighbors, the petitioner, Michael Skakel, allegedly made incriminating statements when he attended a school for adolescents who were troubled. Skakel, who was convicted, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and alleged that his trial counsel, Michael Sherman, provided ineffective assistance of counsel. The Superior Court found that a reasonable probability exists that the results of trial would have been different, if trial counsel had argued that Skakel's brother, Thomas Skakel, was guilty. "Attorney Sherman's failure to point an accusatory finger at T. Skakel," wrote the court, "was and is inexplicable." Although Thomas Skakel's story changed, he allegedly admitted that he was with the victim at approximately 9:15 p.m. that night and that he kissed and fondled the victim. Thomas Skakel allegedly claimed that he returned to his room to work on a homework assignment about log cabins, even though there was no log cabin homework assignment. Thomas Skakel lacked an alibi between 9:15 and 10:17 p.m., and evidence existed that Moxley was murdered between 9:30 and 10 p.m. The jury was not informed about Thomas Skakel's alleged sexual encounter with the victim. Attorney Sherman reasonably could have maintained that Thomas Skakel's admission of a sexual encounter should create reasonable doubt as to Michael Skakel's guilt. Sherman was "derelict" because he failed to object to testimony that suggested Michael Skakel was sent to a special school as part of a family cover-up. Sherman allegedly deprived Michael Skakel of the opportunity to present evidence that Thomas Skakel changed his story, displayed a sexual interest in the victim, and possessed a history of emotional instability. Also, Attorney Sherman's failure to present testimony of Dennis Ossorio, an independent alibi, constituted a failure to diligently investigate. The state's conviction against Michael Skakel lacked reliability. The court granted the habeas petition, set aside the jury's conviction and ordered a new trial.