State News

Defense rests in MacDonald hearing; prosecutors call witnesses

Posted September 19, 2012
Updated September 21, 2012

— The defense rested Wednesday after two days of testimony in 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.

Prosecutors called four witnesses – two former U.S. marshals, a former FBI agent and the prosecutor in the 1979 trial – to the stand Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Wilmington.

The hearing, which is expected to last 10 days, hinges on DNA evidence that wasn't available in 1979 and witness testimony that MacDonald's defense team says proves his innocence.

Former FBI agent Frank Mills testified Wednesday that Helena Stoeckley, a known drug addict who claimed off and on that she was in the MacDonald house the night of the murders, told him that she remembered "getting high" that night and taking "a hit of something."

Stoeckley said she didn't remember what happened after that, Mills testified, but she remembered having a recurring dream about being in the MacDonald household, holding a candle and seeing the words "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."

MacDonald and his defense team insist that Stoeckley was not dreaming and was actually in the apartment the night of Feb. 17, 1970. Stoeckley has since died, but her brother, Gene Stoeckley, took the stand for the defense Tuesday and said she confessed to their mother that she was inside the house and that "MacDonald was not guilty of the crimes."

MacDonald – now 68, remarried and still in prison – has never wavered from his claim that he didn't kill his wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen. He has maintained that he awoke on their sofa in their home at Fort Bragg as they were being attacked by four hippies – three men and a woman, who was wearing a blond wig and floppy hat as she chanted "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."

Prosecutors present case to deny MacDonald new trial

Prosecutors on Wednesday also sought to dispute the story of former U.S. Marshal Jimmy Britt, who said he was driving Stoeckley from South Carolina to Raleigh when she admitted to being in the house the night of the murders. Britt died in 2008, but in 2005, he told the story to Wade Smith, a Raleigh defense attorney who represented MacDonald at his trial. Smith testified for the defense on Monday, as well as Britt's ex-wife, who said he told the same story to her.

Former U.S. Marshal Eddie Segment took the stand Wednesday and disputed Britt's claims, calling his former colleague a less-than-truthful employee who had a big ego and was "an attention-getter." Segment said Britt drove Stoeckley only from the Wake detention center to the courthouse, about six blocks away, and not from South Carolina, as he claimed.

Britt also claimed that he saw prosecutor Jim Blackburn threaten to indict Stoeckley with first-degree murder if she got on the witness stand and told jurors she was in the house the night of the murders, Smith testified.

Blackburn denied the allegations in his testimony, saying that the government helped locate Stoeckley in South Carolina and had her driven to Raleigh to testify in the trial. Before she took the stand, court recessed for a day so both sides could interview her.

Blackburn said he asked Stoeckley if she was in the MacDonald apartment and if she had anything to do with the murders.

"She said to me very clearly, 'I did not. I was not there. Do you have any evidence?' I said, 'No, we don't, except for some of your own statements,'" Blackburn testified, adding that Stoeckley looked relieved upon hearing that he didn't have any evidence against her.

Blackburn said the story she told to MacDonald's lawyers was jarringly different. She said she recognized photos of MacDonald's apartment and that she had a recollection of being there, even expressing shock at the blood on her hands. When Stoeckley did take the stand, she said nothing of the kind and admitted no role in the murders.

Blackburn has since left the U.S. Attorney's Office and went into private practice but later served jail time and lost his license for embezzling from clients on an unrelated case.

"I basically shot my legal career in the head," he said.

During cross-examination, lawyers for MacDonald said that, if he couldn't tell the truth to his own clients, how could he be trusted to have told the truth in the MacDonald case. He responded by saying that he’s been upfront about his ethical violations, which began 12 years after the MacDonald trial.

Joe McGinniss, who was embedded with MacDonald's defense team during the trial and wrote a best-selling book, "Fatal Vision," is expected to take the stand this week.

Besides witness testimony, MacDonald's defense team plans to focus on three hairs found at the crime scene that don't match the family's DNA. They want to use new technology called Touch DNA and Y-STR testing on the murder weapons, pieces of a surgical glove and fingernail scrapings.

Touch DNA is so precise that it can come up with a DNA profile using just a few skin cells. Y-STR stands for "short tandem repeat" on the Y-chromosome and is often used in forensic DNA testing.

Despite new technology, the MacDonald case may still come down to the evidence that the jury weighed more than 30 years ago. Fibers from MacDonald’s pajama top were found all over the house, except where he says he struggled with intruders. Investigators say the blood patterns of his wife's blood on his pajama top were formed before he says the top was cut by a weapon-wielding intruder.

U.S. District Judge James Fox will determine if MacDonald gets a new trial.


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  • foghat001 Sep 20, 2012

    The dude's guilty. What a waste of time.

  • Liam704 Sep 20, 2012

    Coincidentally another very important case was transpiring at the same time these murders happened: The Wilmington 10 case; which this month a notepad with 40 year old (mentally ill) assistant prosecutor Jay Stroud's trial notes reveal KKK jury members were sought and prosecution witness bribery was alleged:
    Did Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald think he could get away with murder, with the rest of the state deeply embroiled in school segregation firebombing wars and prominate U S Senators distracted by their own power battles? Were mentally ill prosecutors hired in Both of the Wilmington North Carolina State and Federal courts buildings?
    May 12, 1977
    March 9, 1977
    MacDonald timeline
    January 29, 1957 news archive Pg. 18
    Pre-cursor civil rights battles and 1.3 Billion money grab - Senators

  • apapoolchic Sep 20, 2012

    He had his trial. He was found guilty by a jury. His appeals were wall turned down. Test the DNA and maybe that will shut him up. He's just getting a little vacation. It 's always been about him, him, him. Never his family. Watch the replays of him on the Dick Cavett show years later, laughing and making jokes about the murders, then exaggerating his injuries which were already well documented. This should finish things once and for all...thank heavens. Then he can go on back to prison, right where he belongs! And bashing the EMTs bothers mes too. They were going into an unknown situation to try to SAVE lives. Their job wash 't to preserve evidence!

  • Bartmeister Sep 20, 2012

    Innocent man atheistswillrule

    You shoulda been his lawyer. He would have been out years ago with this aliby. Classic.

  • workinghuman33 Sep 20, 2012

    As I have stated before, I have never once said I am absolutely positive...I am human, and quite fallible. And please note that I am careful with how I phrase things as in "If it were me personally" etc. I am fully, and painfully away of due process. It IS absolutely the State/prosecution that has the burden of proof. One of the reasons that he was charged after the military had released him was due to his inconsistencies in his stories. He enjoys being in the spot light and was telling these inconsistencies on television, years later and his stories continued to change. You are preaching to the choir here on how the court system works. I can assure you I would be the first to say there's no way this guy is guilty if I truly believed it. I will be stunned if they give JM a new trial. It doesn't bother me one bit if they want test his DNA....because I am pretty sure that's what they will find. HIS DNA, no others.

  • Bewitched Sep 20, 2012

    Guilty! The blood evidence alone was a clear map of what he did, and how. In addition to everything else that's been mentioned, the blood types of everyone in the family were different, and only their blood was found in that house. HELLO! Keep him in jail, it's where he belongs for the rest of his miserable life.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 20, 2012

    "hippies (on an army base) would have been noticed". Are you kidding me? You must think that the residential areas on an army base are locked down or something. In fact folks matching the description of Stoekley and others were noticed with one being seen as matching Stoekley by a base MP. There have been many stories surrounding such a group being involved with rumors of confessions abounding since the very first days of the murder investigation. Please do not form opinions based on a completely compromised crime scene, with known hiding of exculpatory information by a completely biased prosecution with a presiding judge whose ex son-in-law was the initial prosecutor who pushed the investigation onto JM. There is much to be worried about in this conviction as to whether it is just. Please examine the questionable forensics used and all the missing pieces of physical evidence and tell me the isn't room for reasonable doubt.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 20, 2012

    "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" is a concept that has long been the standard burden of proof in criminal matters. It certainly does not mean beyond ALL doubt but still is supposed to be a very high burden of proof for the government to deprive someone of their life or liberty. What is not known by most observers of criminal justice is exactly what occurs in criminal investigations by zealous police and prosecutors. They have the power and ability to remove from evidence those things which may be completely exculpatory for a defendant. For example, if police receive a strong lead that points to another perpetrator, they can and often do choose not pursue in any way that new lead. They see that by doing so, they are bringing into evidence stuff they don't want that compromises their case. This is why an " early rush to judgement" is so dangerous in the pursuit of truth. In the JM'S case, there was an early rush to judgement and everything that followed is suspect.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 20, 2012

    Wow, I am amazed that anyone who has read the notes,transcripts etc could possible be absolutely convinced of JM's guilt.. Does anyone think that the fact it took 9 years to bring him to trial after a military tribunal let him off the hook for lack of evidence mean anything? This case was anything but a slam dunk prosecution. When referencing any forensics at all used to convict JM' you must allow for prosecutorial misconduct and questionable science. Secondly convicting someone based on "what I would have done" is purely speculative. No one knows what they would have done. The fact is there were plenty of stories surrounding the case about a group of intruders "hippies" early in the case that were never properly followed up on. JM was convicted on very sketchy evidence and now that there is technology available to determine whether there "others" at the crime scene, it seems to me that even someone who believes in his guilt would at least want confirmation/vindication.

  • workinghuman33 Sep 20, 2012

    I am amazed that anyone who has read the notes, transcripts, etc. could possibly believe in JM's innocence. The pajama top is key, he stated he was wearing it during the supposed struggle in the living room, and took it off in the bedroom when checking on Colette. Every stab wound on Colette matches every stab wound on JM's pajama how can that be? It's impossible if his story is true...and it's not. Then, he stated that after finding wife & children he stopped to look in the bathroom mirror to see why his head was hurting so badly (so there he covers himself for his blood in the bathroom), and THEN he went to the phone to call the operator (we didn't have 911 back then). Now, for myself, there is no way that upon seeing the utter bloodbath that my pregnant wife & 2 children were laying in my first instinct would be to go look in the mirror at MY injuries (narcissistic). I would have immediately rushed to the phone, then possibly check on myself...doubt it though.