Skakel, the 53-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, touched his hand to his chest and looked back at his supporters in the courtroom, his brothers among them, as the judge set bail at $1.2 million. He has been in prison more than 11 years on a sentence of 20 years to life but was expected to be freed shortly after the hearing in Stamford Superior Court.
As conditions of the bail, the judge ordered that Skakel live in Connecticut and wear a GPS tracking device. His lawyer said moments after the hearing ended that Skakel was "very happy" about the outcome.
A judge ruled last month that Skakel's trial attorney, Michael Sherman, failed to adequately represent Skakel in 2002 when he was convicted in Moxley's bludgeoning with a golf club in wealthy Greenwich when they were both 15. Judge Thomas Bishop said Sherman failed to locate a witness who backed up Skakel's alibi that he was at his cousin's house the night of the murder and failed to find a man who challenged a star witness's claim that Skakel confessed.
Robert Kennedy Jr., who campaigned to overturn Skakel's conviction, had said this week that he felt "pure joy" that his cousin was expected to be released. Skakel has seen his son only a handful of times since he was sent to prison, he said.
"Everybody in my family knows that Michael is innocent," Kennedy said Tuesday. "He was in jail for over a decade for a crime he didn't commit. The only crime that he committed was having a bad lawyer."
The ruling for a new trial caught Moxley's family by surprise after a decade of unsuccessful appeals by Skakel's attorneys.
"He ought to serve his punishment," Dorthy Moxley, the victim's 81-year-old mother, said this week as the release was pending. She and her son attended Thursday's hearing. "There's no doubt in my mind that he did it. A little justice for Martha is not asking a lot."
Skakel's attorney, Hubert Santos, had argued that Skakel should be released immediately, saying that the ruling makes him an innocent defendant awaiting trial and that he was not a flight risk. Santos also argued prosecutors were highly unlikely to win their appeal, a contention prosecutors dispute.
The case was considered a big challenge for prosecutors because of issues including the age of the crime and the lack of forensic evidence. Michael Skakel was convicted after a trial that focused on testimony that he confessed or made incriminating statements over the years.
Both Sherman and prosecutors defended his handling of the case.
Skakel's older brother Thomas was an early suspect in the case because he was the last person seen with the victim, and Bishop said in his ruling that Michael Skakel's defense should have focused more on Thomas.