Transcripts Available at Lexis.Com

June 7, 2002

CNN Larry King Live

Skakel Attorney Mickey Sherman On the Trial and Verdict:


KING: And we wind up things tonight with the defense attorney for Michael Skakel, Mickey Sherman. Mickey, what were you thinking when the foreman opened the -- to read the verdict?

MICKEY SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, you know, you've been doing this a long time, you get to know some signs. And as soon as they came out, I knew it was a guilty verdict. I think anybody who has been practicing criminal law could tell that as well. They had a somber look on their face. They wouldn't look over at us. Not that these are the, you know, the old tales, but it was pretty obvious that this was a jury that was very serious.

KING: The prosecutor praised you. Did he do a good job?

SHERMAN: He did a great job. And I've known John Benedict for 30 years. I've tried cases with him. He is a very good prosecutor; he's a very decent man as well.

KING: What lost this case?

SHERMAN: You know, John says I lost it on the facts. And he praised my argument, my skills, and I praised his as well. One of the elements that I couldn't control was the outrage factor. And you have a very lovely young girl whose life was taken in the most demonic way. And when they saw her picture up there time and time again, and then they look over here and they see Dorthy Moxley, who is, you know, the very essence of elegance, I think they wanted to do something good for her and I think they wanted to avenge this death.

And all they had in front of them was the body of Michael Skakel. And there were very unkind things said about him throughout the trial. He has been painted as a villain in the press. And that's not Michael Skakel. That's not the Michael Skakel I know, or the people who know him know. And I think we could never get past that PR factor, or that outrage, or that moral shock factor.

KING: Why didn't you let him take the stand?

SHERMAN: You know, I thought of it. And I'm usually someone who does have my client take the stand. But in Michael's case, as John Benedict pointed out a few moments ago, I really didn't need to, because his story was out. It wasn't the greatest story, though. But it was his story. And you know, you are dealt the cards that you have at the beginning of the case. We don't have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of defenses. We take the defenses we have.

KING: All you can do is all you can do.

SHERMAN: All you can do -- but again, it was his story, and it was in his own words and it was also in his own voice, because they had this tape that they seized. So, you know, it was out there. I was never going to do any better than that, so why subject him to cross-examination. It's one of the things people like me always second-guess, but even in this dark night right now, I'm not second- guessing that aspect.

KING: How about Tommy?

SHERMAN: Tommy was always the man of mystery here. The state was going to call him, and that was fine with me. I was never intending on calling him. He certainly may have helped Michael's alibi, but in the long run it seemed the jury didn't buy any family member talking about an alibi, which I still don't understand.

KING: Where is Michael right now?

SHERMAN: Michael is locked up. He is in a maximum security prison in Connecticut.

KING: Maximum security.

SHERMAN: Yes, he is.

KING: Where he remains through all appeals...

SHERMAN: He will now remain there at least until the sentencing, or at least until we have the issues heard as to whether or not he should be released on bond before the sentencing.

KING: Can you appeal the ruling of no bond?

SHERMAN: I think we can. And we will take every possible step to make that happen.

KING: What did he say to you?

SHERMAN: Michael, being Michael, was very consoling to me. I was a wreck. Still am a wreck. And Michael was saying, don't worry, it's going to be OK. He trusts in the system, he trusts in me, trusts in God. And he believes that eventually he will be exonerated. We've been saying this a long time. This is kind of an obstacle, no question about it, but he believes that things will happen.

KING: Who does he think killed her?

SHERMAN: He doesn't know. And Larry, if he knew, he'd tell me, I'd tell you, and I would have told Jon Benedict a long time ago.

This is not a matter of family honor. It's not a conspiracy; it's not a conspiracy of silence. He has no clue.

KING: How did the judge -- you're going to appeal on how many grounds?

SHERMAN: We have a bunch of things that we can deal with. I don't want to start listing them now. The last thing I want to do is start dissing the judge.

KING: Well, was one of the things, that he didn't get a trial as a juvenile?

SHERMAN: Yes, I think the case should never have been transferred out of the juvenile court. This happened when he was 15. And there was nothing to dictate that he should be treated more harshly. Twenty-five years had gone by, he had not committed any serious crimes -- any crimes, much less that.

So there's no reason this should have been ever taken out of the juvenile court. The reason they used is, well, we have no place to put him in case he's convicted. Well, in Connecticut, they've got a few bucks there; they could have found someplace.

KING: Any sense that the fame of Skakel, the relationship to the Kennedys hurt him?

SHERMAN: It hurt him. I mean, I've been trying not to embrace that all these years, in the four years I've been involved. And I don't blame the Kennedys, but there's a spotlight on this case that would not have been there had it not been for that affiliation.

KING: How damaging was the tree climbing masturbation story?

SHERMAN: Not damaging, it was the most damaging aspect of this case. We know that from seeing some of the interviews that have come out with the jurors. They could get past everything, it seems, but that story.

And the problem is, you're talking about a 15-year-old kid who did something weird, something offbeat. But to build a bridge between that behavior and murder, and a violent murder, I don't think that bridge could have been built.

KING: Do you learn a lot when you interview jurors?

SHERMAN: You do. You do. But then, again, it's specific and peculiar to those jurors. You can get 12 more people and have a totally different result.

KING: What about the closing argument? A lot of people have said today the prosecution's close won this.

SHERMAN: I don't know that the prosecutor's close won it. And I think Jon doesn't believe that either. I think he did a hell of a job; and I was the first one to congratulate him and shake his hand when he gave that argument.

I think the bar had been lowered because, I think, people had expected him to be too low key. But I agree with Jon Benedict when he said, it's evidence that wins it, and it's the people's perception of evidence. It's not the arguments themselves.

KING: Mickey, you've defended a lot of people. And some of the people had to have done what they were charged with.


KING: And some you believe, and some you don't believe. You've got to do your job, because your job is not to say whether they're guilty or not guilty, but to see that they get a fair trial.

Do you ever think your client may have done this?

SHERMAN: No. No. Not after I got to know him. Not after I got to know the case. I've never been this close to a client and this close to a case in my life.

KING: Is that a good idea, by the way?

SHERMAN: No it's not. It's not. I'm much too close to this case. I'm much too close to this client. But it allowed me to have the passion that I had, for what it's worth in the courtroom. But most importantly, it allowed me to get to know this guy so well, and really believe -- and really believe -- he didn't commit this crime...

KING: So then what does it do to you?

SHERMAN: Well, it takes away your impartiality. It takes away the dispassion. You're supposed to be somewhat separated from your client so you can divorce yourself from some of the emotional issues. I threw that away; and I'm proud of it, frankly. And that's because I like Michael Skakel. I like him a lot.

KING: Therefore, the guilty verdict has to annihilate you.

SHERMAN: It totally annihilates me. I will tell you that I was a wreck. I wanted to go home and hide under the bed, but you can't do that. As I said outside the courthouse, we're not giving up. I'm just going to be even more, more eager to help him.

KING: Mickey, what about him do you know that we don't?

SHERMAN: I know him. I know him. And that's such a good question, Larry. I know the Michael Skakel that goes out to the grocery store. I know the Michael Skakel that kids around at the place where he used to live. How he interacts with people. How he interacts with somebody who's going to park a car. How he knows the people -- the little people, as they say, in the world.

And Michael is one of the kindest people I've ever met. He loves people, and people love him -- those who know him.

The people who don't know him are the people who vilify him, because they know him from the "Star" of the "Globe" or the spin.

KING: Why did he confess?

SHERMAN: I don't believe he ever confessed. I do not believe he ever confessed...

KING: You believe that Higgins is lying?

SHERMAN: No, I don't believe John Higgins heard him confess. John Higgins heard him say, over a two-hour period, where John Higgins said nothing -- that's John Higgins' testimony. This is, by the way, coming forward 20-some-odd years later after hearing about a reward in "People" magazine.

And John Higgins' story is that one night Michael, while he was guarding him said, you know, I don't think I did it. I didn't do it. Maybe I did it. I could have done it. Do you think I did it? Maybe I did it. I guess I did it.

That's John Higgins' confession. And that's what they were convicting him on.

KING: You mean he was just sort of, what, drunk?

SHERMAN: No. First of all, I don't know that I believe that it happened. You have to understand, however, the way it was at the Elan program. The state's witnesses -- not mine -- but the state's witnesses testified initially that Michael Skakel was beaten -- literally beaten to a pulp in a boxing ring, one person after another, until he went from saying "I didn't do this" to, "I don't know, maybe I did it." And that was the same, same confession of John Higgins.

KING: Why did courthouse veterans think you were going to win this one?

SHERMAN: I thought I was going to win this one. I don't believe they had any evidence. I don't believe they -- they didn't have any physical evidence. They had no forensic evidence. Their testimony was horrible. And it was a circumstantial evidence case based on a lot of lousy evidence.

I don't think anyone counted on the emotional impact of the death.

KING: Was Ethel Kennedy involved?


KING: Never talked to you?

SHERMAN: Frankly, no. I spoke to Bobby several times. Bobby came to court.

KING: He cared about this case?

SHERMAN: Absolutely; and cared about Michael Skakel, and was very articulate in many interviews -- I think the "New York Times," perhaps even on this show.

Very supportive. Very supportive. I think, as Bobby said, there's not a disingenuous bone in Michael's body. This young man is "totally without guile," to quote Bobby Kennedy Jr. And I totally agree with that.

KING: Is the family to blame, the father? Were these kids raised poorly?

SHERMAN: You know, someone said -- I think John said that this was a dysfunctional family. You know, tell me their family is not. You know, everyone's got their problems. And I don't place the blame on anybody, because I don't believe Michael Skakel committed the crime.

KING: Thanks Mickey.

SHERMAN: My pleasure, Larry.

KING: Mickey Sherman.

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