SUFFIELD, Conn. — Imprisoned Kennedy family cousin Michael Skakel lost a bid for freedom on Wednesday, turned down at his first parole hearing since he was convicted a decade ago of beating his teenage neighbor to death with a golf club and told he would not be eligible again to be considered for release for five years.
Skakel, who proclaimed his innocence at the hearing, nodded, grimaced, and patted his lawyer on the back as he was led away after the three-person state parole board announced the unanimous decision.
Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 of fatally beating Martha Moxley in Greenwich in 1975, when they were 15. He is serving 20 years to life in prison.
The decision was the latest setback for Skakel, who has lost appeals challenging his conviction.
Skakel, whose case has long drawn national attention, has another appeal challenging the work and competency of his trial lawyer coming up for trial in the spring. Skakel claims the trial lawyer had financial problems and did not devote enough money to prepare the case, but the lawyer insists he did everything he could to keep Skakel from being convicted.
The denial of parole came after a concerted effort by Skakel’s supporters, including his cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to show him as a model inmate who has touched many lives in a positive way with his artwork, helping recovering alcoholics, and teaching English as a second language to prisoners.
At the hearing at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Skakel spoke slowly and softly, saying: ‘‘I did not commit this crime.’’
In attendance was the victim’s mother, Dorthy Moxley, who said losing a child is the worst thing in the world, and Skakel should serve at least 20 years.
‘‘Martha, my baby, will never have a life,’’ she said, her voice breaking.
Skakel told the parole board he prays every day that whoever committed the crime is brought to justice but he is the wrong man. He said his best chance to win parole was to admit guilt.
‘‘If I could ease Mrs. Moxley’s pain in any way, manner, shape, or form I would take responsibility all day long for this crime,’’ Skakel said. But, he added, ‘‘I cannot bear false witness against myself.’’
Skakel, 52, with gray, thinning hair, wore a tan prison jumpsuit to the hearing. To support his claims of innocence, he told of how he became sober. ‘‘I pose to you: How can a guilty man stay sober for 30 years with that kind of guilt on his mind?’’ he said.