FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A hearing for the former Army surgeon convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters at Fort Bragg more than 40 years ago has been postponed until next year because his attorneys are withdrawing from the case, citing a conflict of interest with a potential witness.
The evidentiary hearing for Jeffrey MacDonald set for later this month in Wilmington has been postponed until April 30. It had been scheduled for Nov. 28.
U.S. District Judge James C. Fox on Tuesday rescheduled the hearing. MacDonald is seeking court-appointed counsel.
MacDonald is serving a federal prison sentence for the 1970 murders. His lawyers say he deserves a new trial because of unidentified DNA recovered from the scene and allegations that a prosecutor coerced a witness into lying. The forensic technology to test DNA did not exist in the 1970s.
Attorneys Wade Smith and F. Hill Allen IV are withdrawing from the case. They say they have a conflict of interest between MacDonald and the federal prosecutor who convicted him in 1979, James Blackburn. MacDonald contends that Blackburn coerced a witness and lied to the judge in his 1979 trial, Fox's order says.
Smith also represented Blackburn, at the time an attorney in private practice, when he was found guilty of several ethical violations. In April 1993, he turned in his license to practice law to the North Carolina Bar, which later disbarred him. He also served a prison sentence.
Both Blackburn and Smith, who represented MacDonald at his 1979 trial, may be called as witnesses at the hearing so Smith is withdrawing. Allen is withdrawing because he thinks he would violate state regulations on lawyer professional conduct if he had to cross-examine his own law partner about Blackburn.
Fox said Allen's withdrawal is to take place Dec. 6 after Fox finishes reviewing paperwork regarding MacDonald's ability to hire and pay a lawyer.
MacDonald has steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming that he and his family were attacked by three men and a woman with long blonde hair, a floppy hat and boots who carried a lighted candle and chanted "acid is groovy; kill the pigs."
The case resulted in the book "Fatal Vision."