HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Defense lawyers say new evidence will clear Michael Skakel in his conviction in the murder of a young Greenwich neighbor, The Hartford Courant reports.

The evidence focuses on a former classmate who says two friends were instead the killers of Martha Moxley, The Courant reported in editions prepared for Saturday. The defense witness is Gitano “Tony” Bryant, a cousin of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who is embroiled in legal troubles of his own related to sexual assault allegations.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was convicted last year and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for Moxley’s 1975 murder in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood.

Tony Bryant, formerly of the Bronx and now a business owner in Miami, attended the Brunswick School in Greenwich with Skakel before the murder, The Courant reported.

In a 90-minute, videotaped interview with defense investigators recorded in late August, Bryant gave his version of the events of the night before Halloween when Moxley, then 15, was fatally bludgeoned with a golf club.

Defense lawyer Hope Seeley confirmed Bryant’s identity and the disclosures to The Courant. Bryant is “very credible,” despite his 28 years of silence, she said.

Asked why he should be believed now, Seeley told The Courant: “Because he’s not really coming forward. We found him.”

Bryant would not discuss with The Courant details of that night or his statement to the investigator.

“I’ve given my statement to the defense team and I’ll stand behind my statement,” he said. “I really don’t wish to give another statement at this time.”

Seeley did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press at her Hartford office early Saturday morning. Bryant could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

Seeley would not summarize the content of the videotape, but confirmed to The Courant that Bryant names and implicates two friends.

“He believes they were involved in the killing of Martha,” she said.

The Courant did not identify the pair.

A Brunswick classmate in whom Bryant confided in December 2001, Tres Mills, told The Courant he tried to bring Bryant’s account to the attention of prosecutors and Skakel’s former defense lawyer, Mickey Sherman, before Skakel’s trial began last year. He said they expressed little interest in what he had to say.

In addition, Bryant never alerted authorities.

Seeley said she believed the information was not uncovered previously “because the state was not interested in pursuing anyone whose last name was not Skakel.”

Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, who helped Fairfield State’s Attorney Jonathan Benedict prosecute Skakel, declined to comment to The Courant.

“We will wait until we see what claims are filed, and will respond to them accordingly in court,” Morano told the newspaper.

Among questions raised by Bryant’s statement are how three young black men in the largely white Belle Haven community the night of the murder did not appear in any police reports. In addition, their names did not surface during the trial.

Bryant has told defense investigators and at least one other classmate, Mills, that his friends carried golf clubs they had picked up in the Skakel family’s yard and discussed attacking a girl “caveman style.” It was clear to Bryant they were talking about Moxley.

Seeley confirmed that Bryant told investigators hired by her law firm that his friends were carrying the Skakel golf clubs. Bryant said he wanted no part of their plans and left Belle Haven shortly after 9 p.m. to take return by train to New York.

Bryant said he learned of Moxley’s murder the next day, and said his friends admitted their role to him days after the attack.

News of the evidence first became public Thursday when Seeley told Stamford Superior Court Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. about what defense lawyers say they had learned. The judge had called a routine hearing to determine how to disburse reward money.

AP-ES-09-06-03 1222EDT

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