'Fatal Vision' witness testifies about possible cult killing
Posted September 24, 2012
Updated September 25, 2012
WILMINGTON, N.C. — A hearing for Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters at their Fort Bragg home in 1970 and is asking a judge for a new trial, entered its second week Monday. Closing arguments are expected Tuesday.
A federal judge heard testimony from the attorney of Helena Stoeckley, a known drug addict who claimed off and on that she was in the MacDonald home the night of the murders.
Raleigh defense attorney Jerry Leonard was appointed in 1979 to represent Stoeckley, who died in 1983. Leonard said Stoeckley once asked him, "What would you do if I told you I was there (in the MacDonald home)?" Leonard said he assured her he would still represent her, whatever the truth was.
Stoeckley later confessed to being a witch in a cult and said a man in her cult had the idea to go to MacDonald's home, according to Leonard. The cult members wanted to confront MacDonald, she said, because they felt his drug treatment program discriminated against heroin users, which they were, Leonard testified.
When they arrived at the house, things got out of control, she said. Stoeckley said she did not take part in the murders, but mentioned that MacDonald's wife was pregnant and that her cult associated newborns with the devil, Leonard said.
Stoeckley's account to her attorney is similar to MacDonald's defense, that he awoke on the sofa in his home as his family was attacked by four hippies – three men and a woman, who was wearing a blond wig and floppy hat, chanting "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."
Leonard testified Monday that he never asked Stoeckley to name the other cult members.
Prosecutors say MacDonald brutally stabbed his family to death with two paring knives and an icepick and beat them with a piece of wood in their apartment at 544 Castle Drive on Feb. 17, 1970.
The Princeton-educated doctor – who was 26 at the time of the murders and is now 68, remarried and still in prison – has always maintained his innocence.
The hearing hinges on DNA evidence that wasn't available during the 1979 trial and witness testimony that MacDonald's defense team says proves his innocence. U.S. District Judge James Fox will determine if he gets a new trial.
Even after 42 years, the case that spawned a book and television miniseries, both titled “Fatal Vision,” continues to generate interest.