Skakel, who had been found guilty in the 1975 murder of his neighbor, Martha Moxley, when both were 15, benefitted from a narrow 4-3 vote of the Connecticut Supreme Court which ruled that his right to a fair trial was compromised by ineffective legal representation, according to the Hartford Courant, The New York Times and CNN.
Specifically, the court concluded that Skakel’s attorney, Michael Sherman, had failed to present evidence of an alibi. The decision marked a 180-degree reversal of the same appeal, on the same facts, that the court rejected with an identical 4-3 vote in the other direction in December 2016.
The decision vacates the conviction of Skakel, who originally was sentenced to 20 years to life in a 2002 trial, but has been free since 2013 while his appeals played out.
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would move to retry him on the murder charge.
Skakel is the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, and was Moxley’s neighbor when she died after being bludgeoned with a golf club and stabbed in the neck with its broken shaft in upscale Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975.
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Moxley’s mother and brother previously told PEOPLE they believe Skakel is guilty.
“I believe Michael is the one who swung the club,” said her mother, Dorthy Moxley in 2016. “It has been 41 years since Martha died. When you gather all this information for that long a time, you get to a point where you put it all together and it just fits.”
Skakel’s conviction first was set aside in 2013 when a Superior Court judge declared that Skakel’s trial lawyer failed to adequately represent him during the 2002 trial. One month later, Skakel was freed after posting a $1.2 million bond.
Prosecutors appealed that decision and the Connecticut Supreme Court then voted to reinstate the conviction.
The latest decision resulted from Skakel’s request for the high court to reconsider.
In a 2016 book, Framed, Skakel’s cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — the son of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, the former Ethel Skakel — attempted to place blame for the murder on two other men, neither of whom was ever charged for the murder.
He argued that Skakel was partly “framed” by a cast of characters who “ended up at the confluence of where a number of people’s ambitions intersected,” he told PEOPLE in 2016.