Defense rests in MacDonald hearing; prosecutors call witnesses
Posted September 19, 2012
Updated September 21, 2012
WILMINGTON, N.C. — 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 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.