Federal Ruling 'Turning Point' In MacDonald Case, Wife Says
Posted January 16, 2006 10:38 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Nearly three decades after he was convicted in the deaths of his pregnant wife and two daughters, a former Green Beret is one step closer to possibly getting a new trial.
The 4th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals approved a motion on Friday to grant Jeffrey MacDonald a new trial.
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MacDonald, who was sentenced to three life terms in 1979 for the Feb. 17, 1970 slayings, has maintained his innocence, claiming a group of hippies entered his Fort Bragg apartment, stabbed and bludgeoned his family to death and left him seriously injured.
The break in his case came when a former U.S. Marshal, Jim Britt, came forward with new evidence that puts someone else in the home around the time of the homicides.
Friday's ruling means the Federal Court of Appeals thinks the new information warrants at least a hearing for MacDonald to request a new trial.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to finally bring in all the evidence of my husband's innocence that's never been heard by anyone," MacDonald's current wife of four years, Kathryn MacDonald, told WRAL. "We haven't been able to get into court to present it."
That evidence centers on Jim Blackburn, one of the federal prosecutors who worked the MacDonald case. Recently, Britt claimed Blackburn withheld evidence -- an allegation that Blackburn strongly denies.
WRAL spoke with MacDonald's lawyer by phone on Friday. He said the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals is a "substantial" step toward winning a new trial.
He also said the court's ruling basically means if the new evidence is true, no reasonable jury would have found MacDonald guilty of murder.
Attorneys are expected to file paperwork Tuesday in federal district court in Raleigh, which will start the process to set a hearing date.
Without a new trial, MacDonald's only chance for freedom will not come for another 15 years, when he gets another chance at parole.