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MacDonald could wait months to learn if he'll get new trial

Posted September 25, 2012

— Prosecutors and defense attorneys squared off during closing arguments Tuesday at 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 seeking a new trial.

U.S. District Judge James Fox asked that both legal teams get a transcript of the hearing, which began Sept. 17. After that, they have 60 days to submit a written response before Fox will decide whether MacDonald gets another chance in front of a jury.

MacDonald's attorneys delivered their closing arguments first Tuesday and said the jury that convicted their client in 1979 would have found him not guilty if they had heard two things – DNA evidence that wasn't available during the trial and witness testimony that MacDonald says proves his innocence.

MacDonald murders MacDonald murder case photos

Three unknown hairs are at the heart of the DNA evidence the defense wants considered. One hair was found underneath the fingernail of MacDonald's 2-year-old daughter, Kristen, and the second was found on her bedspread. The third hair, a pubic hair, was found under the body of MacDonald's 26-year-old wife, Colette.

The defense argued that Kristen MacDonald's hand wounds showed she tried to defend herself and that the hair under her fingernail must have come from her attacker. The hair on her bed and the hair found under her mother also could have been shed by the attackers, according to the defense.

Jeffrey MacDonald MacDonald could wait months to learn if he'll get new trial

Prosecutors disagreed with those theories and said experts found that the hair under Kristen MacDonald's fingernail was shed naturally, not forcibly removed, and did not have any blood on it even though the girl's hands were bloodied. It was first discovered in a vial of her fingernail scrapings months after the murders and could have been contaminated from repeated handling, they said.

Prosecutors also questioned whether the girl's wounds were defensive in nature, noting that her hand could have been stabbed as it laid on her chest during the attack.

The hair on Kristen MacDonald's bedspread could have come from anywhere, prosecutors argued, saying that black dog hair was also found on the bed even though the family did not own a dog.

The pubic hair under Colette MacDonald's body was also naturally shed, not forcibly removed, and was found a month after the murders, according to prosecutors, who noted that it could have come from anywhere.

Besides DNA evidence, the defense also honed in on witness testimony, particularly 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 she 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."

Defense attorney Gordon Widenhouse called Leonard's testimony "the holy grail" for his client's case and said Stoeckley's confessions were an "extraordinary development."

Prosecutors challenged the reliability of Leonard's memory after so much time had passed.

"Jeffrey MacDonald's never going to admit his guilt. His claims fail. We must end this case and make it final," prosecutor John Bruce said.

They 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.

At the 1979 trial, the state was never able to pinpoint a motive as to why a Princeton-educated doctor without a violent past would snap, kill his family, stage the crime scene and then inflict wounds on himself, making it appear that someone else had committed the murders.

MacDonald – who was 26 at the time of the murders and is now 68, remarried and still in prison – has always maintained his innocence. His wife, Kathryn MacDonald, said Tuesday that he has been "in good spirits."

The case spawned a book and television miniseries, both titled “Fatal Vision,” and continues to generate interest.


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  • sunneyone2 Sep 27, 2012

    If the hairs they found at the crime scene were "from anywhere" then obviously the evidence is completely tainted and he was still wrongfully convicted. Either way, it's GROSS MISHANDLING of the evidence and this case.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 27, 2012

    I actually don't have much problem with US law. The constitution of the US is one of the most important documents ever written. It's just too bad it's impact is largely a thing of the past. So let's talk about prosecutorial misconduct. Police and prosecutors are legally immune from prosecution themselves when conducting an investigation or prosecution. Virtually anything goes for the government. Outright lie spoken by a police officer? Just doing my job judge. Tampering with witnesses? Completely legal for a prosecutor to bribe, extort, threaten, coerce any witness suborning perjury, letting criminals go free for the "greater good". The US Supreme Court in a majority decision with the deciding vote written by none other than Clarence Thomas himself says that current discipline by sate bars is detergent enough for rogue prosecution.. I don't get into the grammar wars either, typos are too common, and editing is not my forte and with the incessant auto spell in my iPad,who cares

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 27, 2012

    I only tried to make a joke!

  • tarheel86 Sep 27, 2012


    Are you really going to make an issue over an apostrophe? This surprises me since your response had several errors regarding punctuation.

    You should have set "however" off by commas because it is an interrupter in the sentence. You should have placed commas after "self-indulgent" and "self-important" because they are adjectives used in a series along with "long-winded" to modify "ramblings". You never start a sentence with "And". There should be a comma after "after all" because it is a coordinating conjunction. "For the record" is an introductory clause with less than five syllables; therefore, there was no need for a comma after the phrase. Finally, "Possessive tense" is not a complete sentence.

    I am not one who usually corrects others' grammar and punctuation; however, in this case I made an exception. I made the exception because I believe that when people cannot respond to the debate, some will stoop to attacking the debater. Personal attacks cheapen discussions.

  • Bewitched Sep 27, 2012

    jackcdneh1017 I am actually a very literate person; I am however not a fan of self-indulgent self-important long-winded ramblings. And our laws worked just fine in the MacDonald case; after all he is still in prison. For the record, we spell it "defense" over here. As far as being literate, you should know that you should have written "folks'" and not "folks". Possessive tense.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 27, 2012

    I do realize that my posts may be considered almost as long as a book to some readers. 1000 words is tedious for some, exceeding many folks capacity to read in one bathroom visit. However, my appeal goes out to the more literate person who can at least admit that 300 exonerations alone is 300 persons too many to have been wrongfully convicted, their lives wasted by years in prison backed up by a mob that chants "look at the evidence, that's what shows they are guilty". Each one of these innocents were vilified and condemned by a jury of their peers. Should we blame ordinary jurors who are much like us? No, these jurors were betrayed just as the innocents were. They were sold a bill of goods which they bought. Too often does the public buy into prosecutorial misconduct and the conviction at any cost mentality. I trust that those of you who blindly trust the government prosecution service will never find yourself under the microscope of suspicion. Pray you never do.

  • tarheel86 Sep 27, 2012

    "And I know the Brits don't have the same justice system we have in the US, btw. Our country, our laws." ~FloppyHatGirl

    If one supports the argument of "our country, our laws" as a defense to injustices that occur in the United States' justice system, does it follow to say that honor killings of women who have been raped in other countries around the world are okay because it's "their country, their laws"? Or Hitler shouldn't have been stopped because it was "his country, his laws"?

    All injustices everywhere should be stopped - no matter whose countries and whose laws support the injustices.

    Edmund Burke said it best, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

  • Bewitched Sep 27, 2012

    jackcdneh1017, why not write your own book, every one of your posts is almost long enough. And, "Oh, so BC is guilty and so is JM. This based upon what?" is based upon the evidence. And I know the Brits don't have the same justice system we have in the US, btw. Our country, our laws.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 27, 2012

    Anyone who is aware of the problem of wrongful conviction in the USA knows the main reasons for wrongful conviction. The JM case is a blueprint for how these wrongful convictions do occur. I am not saying JM is innocent. I am saying he could very well be wrongfully convicted based on what we know about the history of wrongful convictions. Aside from improper identification procedures and false confession, the biggest reasons for wrongful convictions is rush to judgement followed by confirmation bias in the investigation to the exclusion of evidence that contradicts the prosecution theories. This is the roadmap followed in the JM case. It is a proven roadmap to wrongful conviction. It may have occurred in the JM case.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 27, 2012

    Oh and I already anticipate the statements by foghat. " your figures are ridiculous". Please be aware of a few corrections to my last post. First, it should read the US is sending people to prison WRONGFUlLY at the rate of 5% of all convictions per year. Secondly it should read "the very lowest estimates of wrongful conviction rates in the country are in the 0.5% range which still gives 5000 wrongfully convicted with 2000 innocent people IMPRISONED each and every year.

    These figures from "the Criminal Law Bulletin, volume 48 # 2 Marvin Zalman