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Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel set to testify in murder appeal

Jason Rearick / AP

Michael Skakel listens to the testimony of attorney Michael Fitzpatrick at State Superior Court in Vernon, Conn., on Wednesday. Skakel's attorneys are challenging his 2002 murder conviction, saying his trial attorney should have called an expert to rebut the testimony.

Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel launched a barrage of criticism Thursday against the attorney who represented him at his murder trial, saying he failed to track down key witnesses while having fun and basking in the limelight.

Skakel was convicted in 2002 of killing his Greenwich neighbor in 1975 after a trial in which he did not testify. He testified Thursday in his latest appeal, arguing that trial attorney Michael Sherman failed to competently defend him.

Skakel's current attorney says Sherman got caught up in the limelight of the case and failed to prepare. Sherman rejects that claim and says he did all he could to prevent Skakel's conviction.

Skakel said Sherman referred to himself as a "media whore" and spent time with writers Skakel considered his enemies. He says Sherman failed to track down a witness who supported his alibi and others who could rebut a claim he confessed to the crime.

Skakel said he was adamant that Sherman track down other former classmates to challenge a claim that he confessed to the crime while attending a reform school in Maine in the late 1970s, but Sherman failed to find them. One classmate, Gregory Coleman, testified that Skakel confessed to killing Martha Moxley and said he would get away with murder because "I'm a Kennedy."

Skakel called Coleman's claim "laughable" and said Sherman failed to use an argument that a Skakel would never brag about being a Kennedy "because the Kennedys and the Skakels are much like the Hatfields and the McCoys."

Skakel, the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, is serving 20 years to life for the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of Moxley.

Skakel also says Sherman told him he would never get arrested and that he would never go to trial.

He said Sherman did not give him a chance to review evidence in the case. When Sherman visited Skakel at his Florida home, Skakel said they would mostly talk about money and golf.

"He wanted a war chest. He said we needed $5 million bucks," Skakel said.

Skakel said Sherman took photos of the judge and jury with a pen camera and had him sign an autograph. "I was flabbergasted at the nonchalant attitude," he said.

Sherman told him about a dinner he had with a former classmate from the reform school that was attended by actor Harrison Ford and singer Michael Bolton in which the classmate said in front of them that Skakel never confessed while at the reform school, Skalel said. He said Sherman could have called Ford and Bolton to testify.

Skakel's defense also argues that Sherman ignored a claim by a former classmate of Skakel's that implicated two other men in the killing. Skakel said he did hang out with that classmate in Greenwich in 1975.

A judge has rejected the claim as not credible.