By Mary Ellen Godin
SUFFIELD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Kennedy relative Michael Skakel on Wednesday was denied parole in his first attempt to persuade authorities he has served enough of his 20 years-to-life prison sentence for the 1975 murder of his 15-year-old neighbor.
Skakel, 52, closed his eyes as the decision was announced at a hearing at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, then looked back at a dozen supporters in the room.
About a half dozen friends and family members of the victim, Martha Moxley, remained silent as the decision was announced.
The next time Skakel will be eligible for parole is October 2017, the parole board said.
Earlier this year, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy, who has spent 10 years in prison so far, unsuccessfully asked a three-judge panel in Connecticut Superior Court to reduce his sentence, saying he should have been sentenced as a juvenile and not an adult.
Skakel was 15 years old at the time of the murder of Moxley, a neighbor in Greenwich, Connecticut, who was beaten to death with a golf club. Her body was found on the lawn of her parents' home in the affluent New York City suburb.
Skakel has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2000. Long considered a cold case, the Moxley investigation was reopened in 1991 in the wake of an unrelated rape trial of Skakel relative William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Skakel seeking to overturn his conviction on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated because Connecticut's five-year statute of limitations, in place at the time Moxley died, had expired when he was charged.
In 2009, lawyers for Skakel unsuccessfully sought a new trial to overturn the conviction, saying new evidence implicated other men.
"This person committed a heinous crime that gave many people a sentence of suffering that was irreversible," read one letter among those submitted in opposition to Skakel's parole. "Why then should this person be given relief, when none is available for those who suffered the loss of a daughter, a sister, a dear friend."
A letter written by a relative in support of Skakel read, "For those who know Michael to be innocent, Michael's incarceration greatly compounds the tragedy of Martha Moxley's death."
The Board of Pardons and Paroles made public the letters but redacted the names of the authors.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)