Local News

Judge rejects bid for new trial in 'Fatal Vision' case

Posted July 24, 2014 5:54 p.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2014 7:31 p.m. EDT

Jeffrey MacDonald (Photo courtesy of Kathryn MacDonald)

— A federal judge on Thursday denied a motion for a new trial for Jeffrey MacDonald, the Army surgeon who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters at their Fort Bragg home in 1970.

MacDonald, 70, has always maintained his innocence in the case, which spawned a book and television miniseries titled “Fatal Vision," and sought a new trial based on what defense attorneys said was new DNA evidence and witness testimony.

"The court finds that MacDonald has failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty of the murder of his wife and two daughters. Alternatively, the court finds that MacDonald has failed to adequately establish the merits of any of his claims,"  Senior U.S. District Judge James Fox wrote in his ruling.

MacDonald has repeatedly claimed that his family was attacked during a home invasion by four hippies seeking drugs.

The defense said during a September 2012 court hearing that unidentified hairs found under the fingernail of MacDonald's 2-year-old daughter, Kristen, on her bedspread and under the body of MacDonald's 26-year-old wife, Colette, didn't match the DNA of anyone in his family, supporting MacDonald's claim that someone else was in his house.

The defense also focused on affidavits from people connected to Helena Stoeckley, a known drug addict who claimed off and on that she was in the MacDonald home the night of the murders. The testimony alleged that Stoeckley was threatened with prosecution if she testified during MacDonald's 1979 trial that she participated in the killings.

Fox noted in his ruling that specialized DNA testing showed the hairs could have come from members of the MacDonald family, making the three hairs no different from other evidence MacDonald has presented through the years to bolster his claim of a home invasion.

"It is true that the presence of naturally shed, non-bloody unsourced hairs could be evidence of intruders; it also could be like other random household debris,
and not indicative of intruders," the judge wrote.

Fox also said the testimony was unreliable because the passage of time made people's recollections suspect.

"Helena Stoeckley herself was not credible or reliable," he wrote. "The court cannot find, based on this hearsay statement from the unreliable Stoeckley, that she was in fact threatened by (the prosecutor) and therefore induced to testify falsely."