Prosecutorial Misconduct Alleged in Jeffrey MacDonald Case

A front page article in today's Wall Street Journal on the Jeffrey MacDonald case reports that lawyers for MacDonald filed papers yesterday in the 4th Circuit to set aside MacDonald's sentence based on newly-discovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

It's been more than a quarter-century since Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of murdering his wife and two daughters in their Fort Bragg, N.C., home. The former Green Beret, 62 years old, is serving a life sentence in a Cumberland, Md., prison. Dr. MacDonald's story has been examined in dozens of judicial opinions, dramatized on television and told in a best-selling book, "Fatal Vision."

Now a bizarre epilogue is unfolding.

Helen Stoeckley matched MacDonald's description of one of the attackers the night of the murders of his wife and children. Jimmy B. Britt was a deputy U.S. marshall who drove Stoeckley to Raleigh to testify at the trial. On the way, says Britt, Stoeckley said she was in MacDonald's house the night of the murders. She gave details of the interior of the house.

Britt says he was present the next day when Stoeckley told prosecutor James Blackburn that she and others went to MacDonald's house the night of the murders to acquire drugs. Britt says Blackburn told Stoeckley that if she testified to that effect, he would indict her for murder.

MacDonald's lawyers say that this caused Stoeckley to claim amnesia as to the night of the murders. Britt says he came forward recently to relieve himself of the moral burden he has carried for all these years.

Prosecutor Blackburn later went into private practice and admitting stealing $234,000 from his law firm, among other transgressions. He was disbarred and served 3-1/2 months in prison. Ironically, he was represented by MacDonald's trial lawyer. Yesterday's pleading is based on Britt's recent affidavit.

Mr. Blackburn, 61, now is a motivational speaker who gives ethics lectures to lawyers. In an interview in June in the Raleigh, N.C., oyster bar where he waited tables for three years after his release from jail, Mr. Blackburn recalled speaking at length to Ms. Stoeckley on the day cited by Mr. Britt in his affidavit. But he denied that Ms. Stoeckley ever admitted to being in the MacDonald home on the night of the murders.

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    Thank you for posting this. The MacDonald case is one that I have always felt there were too many lingering questions remaining. It will be interesting to see where this new admission by Blackburn takes the case. Do the legal minds here think that MacDonald's petition will fly?

    f*%@$r! Probably won't be seeing a law and order like show loosely based on these facts. This needs to get major press.

    Re: Prosecutorial Misconduct Alleged in Jeffrey Ma (none / 0) (#3)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:07:01 PM EST
    Actually, Law & Order CI did a great episode about the Patriot Act, secret prisoners, etc. Not that the shows aren't largely pro-prosecution.

    Correction to my previous post: A new admission by Jimmy Britt concerning prosecutor Blackburn. I just read the WSJ story. Blackburn is claiming -- of course -- that Britt is lying.

    Good heavens. When I was in school at UNC, I took a nonfiction writing course and did a project about the MacDonald case--read pages & pages of the trial testimony, and interviewed Mr. Blackburn by telephone. He was adamant that MacDonald had committed the murders--I came away feeling convinced that he had prosecuted the case as a true believer. Still, I couldn't shake my own doubts. It was said at the time that Stoeckley (& maybe one or more of her cohorts) had described a rocking horse in the house that had NOT appeared in news photos. I never would have dreamed that this would come back up... unbelievable. I'm also sad to hear of Mr. Blackburn's subsequent disbarment for theft. Wow. He seemed like such a decent guy....

    It is h-a-r-d to reopen a case after this many years. I doubt that MacDonald will succeed in reopening the case. It happens, but I doubt if it will happen here based upon a witness coming forward. That happens all the time, sorry. For a winning case, give me some new kind of DNA test that shows he couldn't have done it. You might interest a judge in that. A witness claiming after 25 years that there was prosecutorial misconduct that he knew about and said nothing all this time (thereby impeaching himself)? I don't think it'll fly.

    graphicus wrote:
    It is h-a-r-d to reopen a case after this many years. I doubt that MacDonald will succeed in reopening the case. It happens, but I doubt if it will happen here based upon a witness coming forward.
    True, but it seems to me that I read somewhere a few years back that there was some new physical evidence in the form of long strands of blond-colored synthetic wig hairs overlooked at the crime scene. I believe that MacDonald's story about the killers always included a woman he described as holding a candle and wearing a blonde wig. He also claimed that the wig-wearer looked like Helena Stoeckley.

    Re: Prosecutorial Misconduct Alleged in Jeffrey Ma (none / 0) (#8)
    by Lww on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:07:04 PM EST
    I've read alot about this case, the double-cross book and some other stuff. I think he's guilty. I remember reading the Daily News in 1970, first words outta my mouth was "this guys guilty." Anyone in the drug culture( and I was at 14 sorry to say) knows that nobody walks around saying "acid is groovy" I don't care how stoned you are. MacDonald claimed that the murderers were chanting or saying it while they killed his family. That's a TV induced BS story.

    What bothered me about the case was simple, Macdonald didn't put up much of a fight for a green beret.