Judicial District of Stamford


Petition for New Trial; Whether Trial Court Properly Ruled that Evidence that was Admissible Under Hearsay Exception for Trustworthy Declarations Against Penal Interest was not Sufficiently Credible to Warrant New Trial.  In 1975, Martha Moxley was killed outside her Greenwich home.  In 2000, Michael Skakel, who was Moxley's neighbor, was charged with her murder.  At the probable cause hearing, Gregory Coleman testified that Skakel confessed to him that he killed Moxley.  Coleman named three people, Cliff Grubin, Alton James and John Simpson, who possibly were present at the time of the confession.  Skakel was convicted of murder in 2002.  Subsequently, in 2005, Skakel filed a petition for a new trial, claiming there was newly discovered evidence and reasonable cause warranting a new trial.  Specifically, Skakel asserted that after he was convicted, he located and interviewed Grubin, James and Simpson.  He claimed their statements directly contradicted Coleman's testimony.  Skakel also alleged that there was newly discovered evidence of third party culpability involving three individuals who had never been connected to the murder, namely, Gitano Bryant, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burton Tinsley.  In addition, he claimed that before he was arrested, the state's lead investigator and an author entered into a book deal and a secret pact to tell their story about the Moxley case and, further, that the investigator had threatened witnesses.  Also, Skakel claimed that there had been a pattern of nondisclosure of exculpatory information, which warranted a new trial.  With respect to the third party culpability claim, at the hearing on the petition, Skakel sought to admit a videotaped interview of Bryant in which Bryant disclosed that he had been on the Moxley property with Hasbrouck and Tinsley on the night Moxley was killed.  Bryant also stated that a few days after the killing, Hasbrouck and Tinsley made certain statements to him that led him to conclude that they had killed Moxley.  Because the three witnesses were unavailable to testify, having invoked their fifth amendment rights, Skakel sought to admit Bryant's statements under the hearsay exception for trustworthy declarations against penal interest.  The court agreed that the statements satisfied that hearsay exception.  The court determined, however, that the testimony was not credible because it lacked any genuine corroboration and could not be challenged through cross-examination.  Thus, it determined that the testimony would not likely produce a different result in a new trial.  As to the secret pact evidence, the court found that it was not undiscoverable.  It further found that Skakel did not establish that such evidence, if presented at trial, would likely have resulted in an acquittal.  Regarding the evidence that allegedly contradicted Coleman's testimony about the confession, the court determined that Skakel had not exercised due diligence in his efforts to find the three witnesses before his trial and thus failed to prove that the evidence was newly discovered.  Moreover, the court found that the evidence was cumulative and, even if not cumulative, that it was not material and not likely to result in an acquittal on retrial.  Finally, the court rejected the claim concerning the alleged pattern of nondisclosure.  On appeal from the denial of his petition, Skakel challenges the abovementioned rulings.