MICHAEL SKAKEL v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19251

Judicial District of Tolland

 

†††† Habeas; Whether Habeas Court Properly Found that Counsel Ineffective in (1) Failing to Assert Third Party Culpability Defense; (2) Failing to Impeach Key State Witness; and (3) Failing to Offer Alibi Witness.† The petitioner was convicted in 2002 of the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.† He brought this habeas action in 2010, claiming that the ineffective assistance of his trial attorney, Michael Sherman, denied him his sixth amendment right to counsel.† The habeas court found in favor of the petitioner and ordered that his murder conviction be set aside and that the case be remanded to the trial court for a new trial.† The state appeals, challenging the habeas courtís findings that the petitionerís trial counsel was ineffective in failing to (1) assert a third party culpability claim against the petitionerís older brother, Thomas Skakel; (2) discover and present Dennis Ossorio, the former boyfriend of the petitionerís cousin, Georgeann Dowdle, as a witness in support of the petitionerís alibi defense; and (3) adequately impeach Gregory Coleman, who testified that the petitioner confessed to him that he killed the victim. †The state contends that the habeas court should have credited trial counsel's reasonable strategic decision in not pursuing a third party culpability claim against Thomas Skakel and that counsel did not perform deficiently in failing to discover and present Ossorio as a witness. †The state also claims that the habeas court erred in determining that the petitionerís attorneyís efforts to impeach Colemanís testimony were inadequate and that, in any case, the petitioner was estopped from challenging Colemanís credibility in this habeas proceeding.† Finally, the state claims that the habeas court wrongly determined that the petitioner was prejudiced as a result of any substandard performance by his attorney in light of ample evidence from which the jury could reasonably have concluded that the petitioner murdered the victim.† ††