<b>Mickey Sherman: Watching Skakel In Courtroom 'Nothing But Heartache For Me'</b>

Mickey Sherman, Michael Skakel's attorney at his 2002 murder trial, testifies at a hearing Tuesday. (Pool photo)

Since he has been at the center of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's latest attempt to get out of prison, Greenwich attorney Mickey Sherman said he has been asked often if he has mixed emotions about the outcome.

If a judge finds that Sherman's defense of Skakel at his 2002 murder trial was ineffective, Skakel could either get a new trial, less time in prison, or go free — at the expense of Sherman's reputation.

But if a judge rules Sherman did not fail in his representation, a man Sherman says is innocent would continue serving his 20-years-to-life sentence for the 1975 murder of his Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley.

On Thursday, after three days on the witness stand in Skakel's hearing on a writ of habeas corpus, Sherman said he hopes Judge Thomas Bishop rules in Skakel's favor.

"I don't have mixed emotions about this," Sherman said Thursday outside the courtroom. "I want him out of jail. That's the priority."

Sherman said he does not talk to Skakel anymore, though Sherman testified that the two became friends while Sherman crafted Skakel's murder defense. When Sherman tried to pass a note to Skakel this week, Skakel's relatives, Sherman said, advised against it.

"To look at Michael while I'm sitting there is nothing but heartache for me," Sherman said.

Although no words were exchanged between Sherman and his former client this week, Skakel's body language seemed to say something. Skakel, 52, sighed loudly at times, buried his eyes in his hands, and looked incredulously at his lawyers during some of Sherman's testimony.

When Sherman insisted earlier this week that he advised Skakel of his right to testify at his murder trial, contradicting Skakel, who is arguing the point in his latest bid for freedom, Skakel shook his head side to side. Skakel has contended that he wanted to testify at his trial.

During cross-examination Thursday, Sherman elaborated on his decision to keep Skakel off the witness stand, saying Skakel's testimony was unnecessary because of statements Skakel had already made about Moxley's murder.

And, Sherman said, he worried how Skakel would do under cross-examination by prosecutors.

"He does have a temper, he does get excited," Sherman testified at Superior Court in Rockville.

Although he said he did not think Skakel would "blow up" on the stand, Sherman said he feared Skakel would "get mad as he was so entitled to" because he was innocent. Sherman said he wanted jurors to see Skakel as a "sedate, nice man."

As it was, there was a story "in his words, by his voice" out there — about how Skakel climbed a tree on the Moxley property and masturbated the night of the murder — that said Skakel "did something creepy" but that did not mean he killed Moxley, Sherman said.

"What more would come out," with Skakel on the stand, "that would be helpful?" Sherman asked Fairfield County Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney Susann E. Gill.

After discussing those issues with his client, Sherman said, Skakel "felt he should probably not testify," Sherman said.

Gill used Sherman's testimony Thursday to counter Skakel's petition claim that Sherman did a poor job during Skakel's trial and, among other failures, failed to advise Skakel of his right to testify.

Since Tuesday, Skakel's current lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, has grilled Sherman about why Sherman did not use certain evidence or witnesses at trial, Sherman's selection of jurors, his closing arguments, and whether Sherman spent more time talking to reporters and traveling coast-to-coast for the case instead of working on Skakel's defense.

On Thursday, Skakel's own words about the masturbating, tape-recorded by Richard Hoffman, a Boston author whom Skakel had hired to ghostwrite his autobiography, came up several times. Skakel argues in his petition that Sherman did not fight to suppress use of the audio tapes at trial or challenge what he claims was their illegal seizure from Hoffman.

The tapes, considered some of the most damning evidence at Skakel's trial, were prominent in prosecutors' closing arguments, when they used a high-tech presentation to fill the courtroom with Skakel's voice while a transcript of his statements was projected onto the screen.