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RFK Jr says Skakel's new trial will prove his innocence

Oct. 24, 2013 at 3:30 PM ET

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. expressed certainty that his cousin's 2002 murder conviction will be overturned now that a judge has ordered a new trial.

“Michael Skakel is innocent,” Kennedy said Thursday on TODAY. “Michael Skakel was 11 miles away with five eyewitnesses when this murder occurred. The problem was, his one crime was that he had a very, very poor representation.”

Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, has spent more than a decade behind bars for the death of neighbor Martha Moxley when they were both 15. He is currently serving a 20 years-to-life sentence.

On Wednesday, a Connecticut judge ordered a new trial for Skakel, saying he failed to receive adequate representation during his trial. Skakel's attorney filed paperwork Thursday afternoon requesting he be released on bond pending the outcome of his appeal, writing in the motion that because Skakel has been granted a writ of habeas corpus, a decision of bond should be made by viewing him as "innocent until proven guilty awaiting a retrial and not as a guilty defendant." They are asking bond be set no higher than $500,000, and the judge will review the motion before setting a date to hear it.

Kennedy said his family is “thrilled" with the judge's ruling Wednesday for a new trial. Kennedy has long asserted that Skakel is innocent, blaming his cousin’s conviction on botched police work and weak defense work by attorney Mickey Sherman.

“There was no credible evidence against him that couldn’t have been challenged by much stronger evidence," Kennedy said. "And if he gets another trial, he’s got good lawyers now and there’s no way in the world that he will be convicted.”

Kennedy said Sherman failed to investigate credible leads during his cousin's murder trial. The attorney also refused to look up probable witnesses whose testimony could have helped clear his cousin’s name.

“Mickey Sherman never bothered to call those people or to make any efforts to find them,” he said. “When Michael’s new attorneys, his appeal attorneys, tried to find them, they found them within two days.”

Sherman did not comment about specifics in the ruling, but released a statement saying, "I have always believed in Micahel Skakel’s innocence and am very happy that he will see freedom after all these years."

Dorothy Moxley, the mother of the murdered victim, said her mind about the case hasn't changed because of the new developments.

"If there is a new trial, I still feel the same as I always felt," she told NBC News through her home's intercom. "Michael Skakel is very, very guilty, and I know he is."

If Skakel does get a new trial, as ordered by Conn. Judge Thomas Bishop, Kennedy said his cousin will be released from prison. 

Although Skakel has appealed his case in the past, Kennedy said the current judicial system is reluctant to reverse convictions.

“There is a huge barrier to reversing a conviction in a jury trial in which so much work has been done to achieve that conviction," he said.

TODAY's Savannah Guthrie, who is an attorney, said she found the legal ruling surprising.

"I can't say enough how extraordinarily rare it is for a judge to grant a new trial on this base," she said.

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