Jeffrey MacDonald Gets New Hearing 42 Years After Crime
A hearing is underway in federal court in North Carolina to determine whether new evidence, when considered collectively rather than piecemeal, is sufficient to overturn the murder convictions of former Army surgeon and Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald, imprisoned since 1982 for the 1970 Charles Manson-style attack on his wife and daughters.
Kathryn MacDonald, who married MacDonald in prison in 2002, and who has commented on the case here at TalkLeft, has been MacDonald's staunchest supporter.
Will the DNA evidence and evidence of witness intimidation be enough? I hope so. MacDonald has steadfastly denied committing the murders, declining to apply for parole which would require an admission of guilt. A new book by Earl Morris, "A Wilderness of Error," which was glowingly reviewed by the New York Times a few weeks ago, concludes he is factually innocent.
“A Wilderness of Error” upends nearly everything you think you know about these killings and their aftermath. Watching Mr. Morris wade into this thicket of material is like watching an aggrieved parent walk into a teenager’s fetid, clothes- and Doritos-strewed bedroom and neatly sort and disinfect until the place shines.
He will leave you 85 percent certain that Mr. MacDonald is innocent. He will leave you 100 percent certain he did not get a fair trial. Along the way he bops the poor Mr. McGinniss on the head several more times, the way a fisherman puts a flopping brook trout out of its misery before excising its innards.
According to today's News and Observer article, Joe McGunnis' publishers paid a $325,000 settlement after being sued by MacDonald for his Fatal Vision book concluding he is guilty.
Morris joined others in questioning whether McGinniss pretended to believe MacDonald was innocent to gain continued cooperation for a book that ultimately concluded guilt. MacDonald sued the author, and though a trial on the matter resulted in a hung jury, the publisher's insurance company reached an out-of-court $325,000 settlement that was distributed to the inmate's mother and mother-in-law.
More from the New York Times review of Morris's book:
Mr. Morris dilates on the confessions of two people who could be among the hippies Mr. MacDonald said were there the night of the murders. He pores over grievous evidence-collection errors. He walks us through a trial that was demonstrably rigged for the prosecution.
Reading this book made me physically ill, as the author surely intended. “I am repulsed by the fabrication of a case from incomplete knowledge, faulty analysis and the suppression of evidence,” Mr. Morris writes. “Repulsed and disgusted.”
A military inquiry into the murders recommended that MacDonald not be court-martialed, but a federal jury found him guilty in 1979. He was sentenced to life in prison and has been behind bars since 1982.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last year ruled that MacDonald is entitled to an evidentiary hearing. He and his attorneys will argue that new DNA tests show that hair samples found underneath the fingernail of one of the victims did not come from a member of the MacDonald family and presumably were from one of the killers.
The defense team will also try to prove that the prosecutor in the criminal trial threatened Helena Stoeckley, a witness who had earlier confessed to being in the MacDonald home the night of the murders.
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