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US court ruling may reopen Kennedy cousin's murder case

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In the United States a federal judge has ruled that Connecticut officials cannot keep court proceedings and documents secret for teenagers charged with the most serious crimes. Stock image

In the United States a federal judge has ruled that Connecticut officials cannot keep court proceedings and documents secret for teenagers charged with the most serious crimes. Stock image

Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

In the United States a federal judge has ruled that Connecticut officials cannot keep court proceedings and documents secret for teenagers charged with the most serious crimes. Stock image

In the United States a federal judge has ruled that Connecticut officials cannot keep court proceedings and documents secret for teenagers charged with the most serious crimes - a decision that will reopen Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's murder case to the public.

US District Judge Michael Shea in Hartford ruled last Friday that a state law approved last year - to protect juveniles' identities when their cases are transferred to adult court and only unsealing documents if they are convicted - violates the First Amendment right of access to the courts.

The decision came in a lawsuit challenging the law filed by the Hartford Courant and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The judge ordered the state Judicial Branch to open courtrooms and unseal the records in the cases of juveniles aged 15, 16 and 17 whose cases were transferred to adult court but kept secret under the new law.

Under the previous law, serious juvenile cases including murders and rapes were unsealed when they were transferred to adult court, as Skakel's was, allowing public access to court proceedings. The new law resulted in the sealing of Skakel's case, because he was a teenager when Martha Moxley was killed in their wealthy Greenwich neighbourhood in 1975.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 in the bludgeoning to death of Moxley when they were both 15. He served 11 years in jail before a judge overturned his conviction in 2013, citing mistakes by his trial lawyer. He was freed on $1.2m bail.

The state Supreme Court reinstated the murder conviction in 2016, but later reversed itself and overturned the conviction. The US Supreme Court last year declined to hear an appeal by state prosecutors, who have not disclosed whether they plan to retry Skakel.

It's unclear whether officials plan to appeal the ruling.

Sunday Independent