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Retrial For Kennedy Cousin; Interview with Matthew Cordle: DUI Confessor Gets 6.5 Years For Fatal Crash

Aired October 24, 2013 - 07:30   ET



ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., COUSIN OF MICHAEL SKAKEL: We actually, my family, prays every night for Michael Skakel.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Skakel's attorneys argued that his original defense lawyer, Mickey Sherman failed to adequately represent him in court during the 2002 murder trial.

MICHAEL SKAKEL, CONVICTED MURDERER OF MARTHA MOXLEY: I felt that one of the main things we need was a professional.

FEYERICK: The Kennedy cousin was found guilty of killing his friend, Martha Moxley, in 1975, when both were 15 years old. Her mother, Dorothy, doesn't believe there's any new evidence.

DOROTHY MOXLEY, MOTHER OF MARTHA MOXLEY (via telephone): Once we knew who it was, once we had the proof, I have not had one bit of doubt, no.

FEYERICK: Moxley's body was found in her yard in Greenwich, Connecticut, bludgeon and stabbed to death by a broken golf club that was found near her body. That club was traced back to the Skakel home, but no fingerprints were found.

MOXLEY (on camera): They hit her so hard the golf club broke and then they took the shaft and stabbed her with it.

FEYERICK: For two decades, the case languished.

MICKEY SHERMAN, MICHAEL SKAKEL'S FORMER DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Everyone assumes he's guilty. He's been arrested. He's this Kennedy cousin. There's books. There's movies. There's a lot of spin, a lot of disinformation and no one really knows the story.

FEYERICK: Prosecutors claim Skakel was jealous of his brother, Tommy's, relationship with Moxley and killed her in a jealous rage, a charge Michael denied. At trial, Skakel's lawyer failed to lay out the case against Tommy or other potential suspects. Michael was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life.

MOXLEY: I do believe Michael Skakel killed my daughter. I don't believe there's any doubt in that.


FEYERICK: Now I covered the trial back in 2002. The closing argument by prosecutors was incredibly powerful. People's hearts are pounding in their chests. Using Skakel's own words from a book proposal, it actually placed Michael Skakel at every major point of the murder crime scene.

Still, the judge says Skakel's lawyer at that time had a chance to ban that from being introduced into evidence yet failed to do so. Keep in mind that at the time, Michael Skakel 15 years old. His mom had died. His dad was away on a hunting trip. The brothers had actually gone to a club that night, all of them had been drinking. If Michael Skakel had been tried as a juvenile, he would have gotten just four years in prison -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Right, of course, Deb, that was about his age, not the level of culpability necessarily. So this has always been very complicated. Thank you for the reporting.

Joining us now, CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and from Las Vegas, Mr. Vito Colucci, private investigator, worked for the defense on the Skakel case. Thank you to both of you.

Vito, let me start with you because you are close to the team involved here. What was your reaction? You've been trying for appeals forever. This was seen as somewhat of a flier, you know, this was like a last ditch effort, proved successful. Your reaction?

VITO COLUCCI, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Well, very happy, Chris, you know, we've been waiting on this. I was always calling Steven Skakel and say how much more time do they have to make a decision? And we knew it was going to be sometime in November or October. So we got -- I got the call today from Steven Skakel and I'm telling you, man, it's a long time coming, Chris, 12 years. I've been on this case from the beginning.

CUOMO: You know, as long as this decision is, one of the things that was not gone over here is very important to you. On the jury was a police officer who you say knew the people investigating the case, shouldn't have been put on the jury but he was. Why?

COLUCCI: Well, you know, when I heard that Mickey picked a cop, a working cop to be on the jury, I called him that night late and I said, Mick, what did you do today? What -- you picked a cop? He said, trust me on this one, Vito, really, trust me. I said Mick all the cops are talking about it. This guy rides a motorcycle. He rides with all the cops all the time.

He is on the police department now as we speak. How can you do that? It's a horrible move. I mean, we have Jeffrey on the phone. I remember Jeff from the trial, very intelligent guy. If he was running the case, ask him if he would put a cop on a jury on the biggest case in the country at that time.

CUOMO: All right, Vito, I'll come back to you in a second. So when we look at this legally, let's talk about how unusual, the strength of the basis and whether it results in a new trial. Your take?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Incredibly unusual. This is a very common thing that defendants raise after the trial. My lawyer did a bad job. It's almost always rejected. This was one circumstance where it was not rejected so unusual, extremely. Is that a legitimate basis? I have to say, I have a lot of questions about this decision. Mickey Sherman made some controversial calls in this decision. Mostly he decided to blame the whole murder on --

CUOMO: The tutor.

TOOBIN: The tutor, Ken Littleton, a questionable decision. What the judge focused on so much in this opinion is that he should have put more of the blame on Thomas Skakel, Michael's brother. That's a strategic choice. That's not usually a basis for a new trial. Will it stand? Probably it will stand. I think Michael Skakel will get out on bail shortly. And you know, I just don't see how you can retry this case at this point, 1975. It is simply too long ago to bring witnesses back and ask them what they remember.

CUOMO: Why isn't that in favor of the appellate, maybe Supreme Court in Connecticut saying no, you don't get a re-trial? Ineffective counsel could have been brought all along, it wasn't. We believe there is enough fact there. Retrying it is a huge prejudice. We're not going to allow it.

TOOBIN: Well, it is certainly possible that the Connecticut Supreme Court will reinstate the conviction, but this is a very detailed decision. I have to say, the judge obviously put a tremendous amount of energy into it. Under the subtext of this opinion is not about ineffectiveness of counsel. If you read it he thinks that Michael Skakel is innocent. If the judges up the chain believe that, I think it will stand.

CUOMO: Vito Colucci, you worked this case. You know it top to bottom. You'll probably be involved now. Do you believe that there is a solid basis of argument to say that Michael Skakel did not commit this crime? Not just that it was about Mickey Sherman, his lawyer, he didn't do it. Do you believe that?

COLUCCI: I believe it with all my heart, you know, Chris. In a cop's life, private detective's life, there's always that one case that you look back on as years go by and you say, that case didn't go right. That should have had a different ending. This was always that case for me, Chris. But now we stopped it as of yesterday.

TOOBIN: Can I jump in and ask Vito a question. Do you think Tommy did it? That's very much what the judge seemed to imply. Do you think he did it? Do you think Thomas Skakel killed Martha Moxley?

COLUCCI: Well, Jeff, I'm not going to answer that one right now. I'm going to let it play its course. We have a lot of evidence beginning into this new trial, which I don't believe they'll have a new trial. But if they do, we have stuff. We have the Rochester, New York police officers that would have totally discredited Greg Coleman. OK, totally and they were not brought in. There were many people like that that I want brought into this trial and they never were brought in.

TOOBIN: So if Michael Skakel didn't do it, who did?

CUOMO: That's the question.

COLUCCI: You know, I don't want to comment on that right now. Now would not be the right time, Jeff, to give a name out there.

TOOBIN: Why not?

COLUCCI: Not with everything going on.

CUOMO: Vito wants to tie up one chapter before we open the next chapter. It compromises your intentions -- not yours, Vito but in general with the team behind Skakel because the last thing they want, the Kennedys and the Skakels is to have another family member put on the spot to get the other one off.

TOOBIN: I can understand their motivation. We're in the news business. We're trying to figure out what happened here. I think what was so striking about this opinion was that Thomas Skakel, who was a suspect at the very beginning, excluded by the police is very much brought back into the picture by the judge. I don't know what happened and I don't want to point a finger at Thomas, but this opinion certainly does.

CUOMO: I hope you watched last night, "AC 360 LATER" where you were on with Bobby Kennedy Jr. --

TOOBIN: Right.

CUOMO: His point was, look, there is no reason to point a finger at him. When you read the decision very carefully, the judge is saying Mickey should have -- the lawyer, Mr. Sherman, should have argued this for reasonable doubt, not that he says Tommy did it. He says this was your job to say this isn't beyond a reasonable doubt because it just as easily could have been someone else. It's different than saying the judge thinks Tommy did it.

TOOBIN: That's true although the way he marshals the evidence against Thomas Skakel was certainly very unusual in my experience of reading opinions. And, look, Thomas Skakel has never been charged with anything. We certainly shouldn't point finger at him, but here we have this almost 40-year-old mystery.


TOOBIN: And you know, it still gets more and more complicated.

CUOMO: The victim's family deserves answers. They think they have them, but you know, we'll leave it on this. If it's going to be hard to retry a Michael Skakel, it would be almost impossible to try anybody else.

TOOBIN: I don't think there will be another trial in this case again. It's just over. CUOMO: Jeffrey Toobin, Mr. Colucci, thank you very much for your perspective. I look forward to talking to both of you more about this. Kate, over to you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chris. Coming up next on NEW DAY, he's breaking his silence and opening up about a deadly drunk driving crash. Matthew Cordle is in prison today, set to spend more than six years behind bars after admitting to killing a man in an online confession. We'll talk to him coming up.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Matthew Cordle had gotten away with murder essentially. He killed a man while driving drunk. Police hadn't charged him yet. But Matthew had his guilt and he says that was his motivation for an idea to confess his crime in an online video, which quickly went viral as I'm sure you know.

Now he has been sentenced to 6-1/2 years in prison, less than he could have gotten. It could have been eight. The sentence starts today. We're going to talk to Matthew in just a moment. But we first want to give you a review of the latest on his case.


MATTHEW CORDLE, POSTED DUI CONFESSION ON YOUTUBE: My name is Matthew Cordle. On June 22nd, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani.

CUOMO (voice-over): His dramatic video confession went viral with more than 2 million hits on YouTube.

CORDLE: This video will act as my confession.

CUOMO: Now, Matthew Cordle has learned his punishment for killing 61- year-old Vincent Canzani while drinking and driving. A judge in Columbus, Ohio, sentenced him to 6-1/2 years in prison, two years less than the maximum sentence and a lifetime suspension his driver's license.

CORDLE: I'm begging you, please don't drink and drive.

CUOMO: The judge said he watched Cordle's confession three times before making his ruling and played it in the courtroom as a lesson.

CORDLE: When I get charged I'd plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I've done to Vincent and his family.

CUOMO: But the video did little to convince his victim's daughter.

ANGELA CANZANI, FATHER KILLED BY MATTHEW CORDLE: I've heard time and time again about a message, but the message I do not want to send is if you hit and kill someone, all you have to do is admit to it later and get leniency.

CUOMO: Cordle directly addressed the victim's family in court, offering an apology. CORDLE: It should have been me that night, the guilty party instead of an innocent man. I vow that I will do everything I can to prevent this senseless loss of life. I will not let Vincent's memory fade.


CUOMO: Matthew Cordle and his lawyers join us now from Franklin County Jail in Ohio where he is preparing to begin his sentence. Mr. Cordle, thank you very much for taking the opportunity to join us on NEW DAY.

CORDLE: Thank you for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: So did you know this day was always coming or did you hold out hope that leniency would mean no jail time.

CORDLE: I 100 percent knew this day was coming. I accepted it a very long time ago and I'm very relieved now that it's over.

CUOMO: Relieved. What do you think of the sentence? Six and a half years, could have been about eight or so. Do you think it was fair?

CORDLE: As I said in the courtroom, there is really no fair sentence when it comes to the loss of life. It's just time and time won't bring back the victim, unfortunately. So, you know, I'm just glad that the family can have some measure of close your and I hope they find peace throughout this.

CUOMO: I'm sure you're reliving everything that happened all the time, something as horrible as this. That night, what is the main memory that you have?

CORDLE: Waking up in the hospital very delirious and in an uncontrollable state.

CUOMO: What do you remember being the first wave of emotion you had when you realized that Mr. Canzani was dead as a result of the accident?

CORDLE: Denial and shock. I would say I just really didn't want to believe it. It's one of the worst things I can imagine happening and being responsible for.

CUOMO: Now, was this just a bad night and a terrible, poor choice by you or is drinking something that you struggle with as a problem?

CORDLE: Drinking is definitely something I've been struggling with my whole life. Since I began, I've always drank heavily and drank often. The statistic is that first-time DUI offenders drink and drive 80 times before they get caught and that is definitely a category I fall under. It's just -- I can't believe I didn't see something like this coming. That was one of the biggest emotions that I had throughout this is frustration with myself.

CUOMO: We're going to talk about what made you popular, obviously, the video. But in terms of raising awareness, did you raise your own? Have you gotten help for the problem?

CORDLE: Yes. Not as much as I wanted yet but as much as I could before this legal issue took place. After the fact that I got out of the hospital, I put myself into a partial hospitalization program through Dublin Springs in Dublin, Ohio, and successfully completed that, but my road is just beginning on recovery.

CUOMO: Now, the video, you waited a little period of time after this actual accident. How did you make the decision that I'm going to go this direction? This is how I'm going to handle this situation. I'm going to do a video.

CORDLE: At the beginning, as you said, I waited a few months. I had a roller coaster of emotions. Wasn't sure how, you know, wasn't sure how to bring some good out of this. I fell into a deep depression. Initially contacted, because I said I would, to get some ideas for possibly speaking out against this and raising some awareness towards it.

You know, we decided to make the video and put it on social media, because young drivers are the ones who mostly drink and drive and young people are also the ones who mostly use social media. So we thought that was the best platform to raise awareness.

CUOMO: We know that it was unusual. That's why it had such effect, especially in such a situation where the punishment wasn't determined yet. We also know you reached out to the Canzanis. You did that first. I want to talk to you about what that conversation was like and what you know about how they feel about your punishment.

We're going to take a break right now. I want to talk to you about those things when we come back. We'll have more with Matthew Cordle, right after the break.


CUOMO: We're back with Matthew Cordle. His confession to this act on YouTube went viral and made this story something that everybody has talked about for a long time. Now we know, Mr. Cordle, thank you for joining us again. We know now the sentence. You're going to be serving 6-1/2 years. Have your attorneys told you how much of that they expect you to serve?

CORDLE: It's the full six and a half. In this crime, it's mandatory jail time, mandatory prison time. Every day I get sentenced to, is every day I have to serve.

CUOMO: You know that. What that does mean to you that there will be no relief from this sentence. It will be the full time?

CORDLE: As I stated again in court, you know, the punishment is going to stay with me forever and that's going to stick around in my mind. As far as the prison time, I'm just going to take it as it comes and do everything I can to walk out of prison a better man than I walked in. CUOMO: The hardest punishment as you've remarked is living with the guilt of knowing what you took from this Canzani family up. You've reached out to them before the video. Where is the family in terms of reconciling what you did to their loved one and about their punishment? What do you know about their thoughts and feelings are?

CORDLE: At the beginning, the only member of the family that contacted us was Angela Canzani, and that's Vincent's daughter. I never spoke directly to her. I was open to that, but you know, obviously she's entitled to feel the way she feels. She's going through a lot of grief and anger towards me.

On the other side, Sheryl Oats, Vincent's ex-wife reached out to some reporter made a statement and then got in contact with us. And said that, you know, she forgave me and supported the message I was trying to convey. So that meant the world to me.

You know, one day I hope to speak to Angela in person and possibly -- hopefully she forgets those feelings of anger and can forgive me one day. But right now it's fresh and she's entitled to feel the way she feels.

CUOMO: How much of the video was about you and your cause and how much was about the message?

CORDLE: My cause is a message. So it was 100 percent about that.

CUOMO: Your cause is also what is going to happen to you for the act. There was absolutely no influence that I hope this helps. I hope people see it, I'm sorry, I hope people see I'm not like other drunk drivers who sometimes don't take responsibility? There was no part of that calculation?

CORDLE: The video itself, I had no motives for using it in court whatsoever. In fact, I didn't want to use it in court. The judge thought it ought to be played. I'm actually glad he did because it pushed the message as well.

CUOMO: Making the video definitely served a purpose and also came at a cost for you especially with the family, right? The daughter of Vincent Canzani, the man who died, she doesn't like it. She said that every time she tries to forgive you, you do something else that upsets her. Do have you any regret about the video?

CORDLE: Obviously, I didn't want to intentionally cause Ms. Canzani pain. You know, the video is a very strong message and one that's very necessary. The whole point of it is so people don't have to feel the pain that she's feeling. And I hope to prevent that.

CUOMO: You're a young man, 6-1/2 years is a long time. What are you going to do with that time? What do you hope to make of this? What's your biggest fear?

CORDLE: You know, I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do yet because I've never been to prison. I don't know exactly how the programs and all the things offered there, but I'm going to take advantage of every educational program that I can, every recreational program and every work program that I can. As I said, to walk out of prison a better man than the day I walked in. As far as after that, only time will tell.

CUOMO: There are many who feel the strongest message sent by your situation is the time, is the punishment, so that people realize no matter what the excuse, if you go down this road, the punishment is harsh. And we know it's going to be difficult for you. We appreciate you taking the opportunity to come forward. It's an important message for people to hear.

CORDLE: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Good luck to you, Mr. Cordle. Kate, over to you.

CORDLE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, Chris, thank you so much.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, a Massachusetts school in mourning after a popular math teacher is murdered and a student is charged with the crime. We'll have new details coming up next.