Michael Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, is suing Nancy Grace for libel after the television journalist wrongly stated there was DNA evidence that “tied him to Martha Moxley’s 1975 murder,” the New York Times reported.
Skakel’s lawsuit is against Nancy Grace, her guest Beth Karas, Turner Broadcast System and Time Warner.
Hartford U.S. District Court Judge, Vanessa L. Bryant, rejected Grace’s and the others parties’ requests to dismiss Skakel’s lawsuit, the New York Times reported. Bryant decided that Grace’s and Karas’s comments were a serious allegation.
“Where no such DNA evidence was found, a statement to the contrary is not just a minor inaccuracy that does not alter the underlying meaning of the reporting. Rather, the distinction between hard scientific evidence found at the scene of a murder and lack of any DNA evidence is stark,” she wrote.
Grace’s guest legal commentator Karas mistakenly said on her HLN (formerly Headline News) show January 2012 that Skakel’s “DNA was found” near where Moxley was killed, which is inaccurate.
Grace’s and Karas’ inaccurate comments were made while Skakel was attempting to get a new trial.
The broadcasted exchange between Grace and Karas was, according to The Hollywood Reporter:
- Grace: “Isn’t it true that the Kennedy cousin apparently was up in a tree masturbating trying to look into [Moxley’s] bedroom window?”
- Karas: “Well, his DNA was found, yes … up in the tree.”
- Grace: “Beth, I love the way you put it so delicately. His DNA, you know, it was sperm. There, I said it, and so he places himself there up in a tree masturbating looking down at her window, and, whoa, she [Moxley] turns up dead within a couple of hours.”
Convicted 27 years after murder, Now out on appeal after 11 years in prison
Skakel was convicted in 2002 of murdering Moxley in 1975.
Last year, Skakel was released on bail from prison because Judge Thomas Bishop decided Skakel’s attorney in the 2002 trial didn’t “adequately represent” him,” NBC Connecticut reported.
Bryant’s ruling stated that the comments in question “imply that hard, unfeeling, scientific, and direct evidence linked Skakel to the scene and conclusively corroborated his guilt, when such scientific certainty did not exist.”
She said that viewers would take Grace’s and Karas’ comments as factual evidence implicating Skakel. Bryant wrote:
“This conclusion is particularly apt because the assertion that Skakel’s DNA was found near the Moxley crime scene not only is unquestionably false, it is also materially false. The presence of DNA at a crime scene is the type of evidence upon which most people would rely and would erase any notion of innocence.”
Bryant didn’t decide if Skakel is a private or public figure.
Bryant also pointed to other high-profile court cases covered in the media and how often public opinion finds people guilty of crimes that courts don’t. As example, she wrote, “To illustrate this point one need only contrast the conclusions of the courts of justice with the conclusion of the courts of public opinion in the OJ Simpson, George Zimmerman, and Michael Dunn cases.”
The Hollywood Reporter uploaded the ruling, embedded below.
HLN’s Karen Reynolds told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “We are aware of the ruling and we are evaluating next steps.” Karas told iMediaEthcs she has “no comment right now.”
iMediaEthics has written to Skakel’s attorney, Turner Broadcast Systems, and Time Warner for comment. We’ll update with any additional information.