SUFFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel was denied a bid for freedom Wednesday at his first parole hearing since he was convicted a decade ago of killing his neighbor in 1975.
Skakel, who proclaimed his innocence at the hearing, nodded and patted his attorney on the back after the three-person state parole board read the unanimous decision. He will next be eligible for parole in 2017.
Skakel is serving 20 years to life for fatally beating Martha Moxley with a golf club in Greenwich when they were 15. Skakel is a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy.
At the hearing at McDougall-Walker Correctional Institu tion in Suffield, Skakel spoke slowly and softly, saying: "I did not commit this crime."
In attendance was Dorthy Moxley, the victim's mother, who said losing a child is the worst thing in the world and Skakel should serve at least 20 years in prison.
"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.
"If I could ease Mrs. Moxley's pain in any way, 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."
The heavyset, 52-year-old Skakel 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.
Skakel also talked about his mother's death at an early age, his learning disability and a childhood in which he attended numerous schools. He said his ex-wife was recently diagnosed with cancer, and he is concerned about his 13-year-old son.
"I'm at your mercy. The only power I have is prayer," he said.
The chair of the parole board, Erika Tindill, showed some skepticism as she pressed Skakel with questions. She said it was an odd situation for him to ask for early release while proclaiming innocence of the crime.
Ultimately, she said, the board concluded that the time he has served is not punishment enough for the crime.
Skakel's attorney, Hope Seeley, said the board's decision is disappointing because Skakel is not a danger to society.
"To incarcerate Michael Skakel for at least another five years compounds the miscarriage of justice that has already occurred in this case," she said.
Skakel, convicted in 2002, was eligible for parole consideration because of laws in place at the time of the crime including good behavior credits.