And you thought that current court cases were whacked... check this one out. A copy of my spring 2002 term paper on the case, which I got an A+ for, reformatted for HTML and slightly edited for clarity.
The entire ordeal of the Jeffrey MacDonald case shows that a miscarriage of justice can happen to anyone- not just a member of a minority. The case has been infused with controversy, even though the murders occurred thirty-two years ago. MacDonald himself has maintained his innocence despite years and years of being rejected by the courts. (Kurrich & Laba) Fueling this controversy are thousands upon thousands of pages obtained from the government by the Freedom of Information Act, showing that the government went to extraordinary measures to convict MacDonald, suppressing and misrepresenting evidence at trial. MacDonald’s character was also thoroughly denigrated and assassinated in the book Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss. Also, several members of the prosecution perjured and overstated witness qualifications in order to misinform the jury and secure a wrongful conviction. After all these years, the government has kept the whole of the evidence against MacDonald out of a courtroom, even after the ability to perform DNA testing was awarded to MacDonald by the Fourth Circuit of Appeals court. All this illuminates one thing: Jeffrey MacDonald is factually innocent, and was convicted to cover up incompetence and corruption on the government’s part.
The murders of MacDonald’s wife and children may or may not have been caused by Dr. MacDonald, perhaps accidentally, meddling in the drug scene around Fort Bragg, North Carolina during the years of 1968-1970. Here we should note several interesting things. Fort Bragg itself was involved in the deteriorating conflict of Vietnam and bogged down with futile efforts against drug crimes on the post. Many of the veterans just returning from the Vietnam War to Fayetteville (the city that houses Fort Bragg) were mentally unstable or injured, and more than a few sought solace in illegal drugs. By 1969, the Fort Bragg police "blotter" averaged 22 pages daily of complaints due to drugs (Potter & Bost 63) and their related crimes. Armed holdups and robberies on the post became common. MacDonald himself did not do much to endear himself with the drug users on post. (Potter and Bost 68) When he assumed his position as group surgeon of his unit, he found medical equipment stacked on the back steps of the medical area, which were going to be dumped. Upon further examination, MacDonald saw that the discarded equipment contained syringes and drugs that he feared would be found by scavenging addicts.(Potter and Bost p. 69) Captain Jim Williams, a colleague of MacDonald, remarked that his hardnosed stance on drugs made him sarcastically better known as "Wonderboy"(Potter and Bost p. 69). A month before the murders, a soldier named Robert Wallack overdosed on heroin, and two of his friends took him to Cape Fear Valley Hospital instead of Womack Army Hospital for fear that they would have to report his drug addiction to his superior officers. By chance, Dr. MacDonald was on duty at the emergency room that night and saved his life. Unfortunately, a nurse called police when she learned that heroin was involved. (Potter and Bost 69) The two friends were escorted to the police station downtown where they were questioned by officers where they had to identify their heroin supplier; soon after the arrest, Captain Williams warned MacDonald that the medics in the field were being told that MacDonald was a "fink". (Potter and Bost 69) MacDonald shrugged off his remarks, having dealt with the daily threats of addicts while interning in a hospital in New York City. The day before the murders, an unidentified soldier stormed into MacDonald’s office and demanded a discharge from the army due to his heroin problem. (Potter and Bost 69) MacDonald informed the man that he had no power to do this, and the man began yelling at MacDonald. It took three more men to remove the wildly agitated soldier from the premises. After this incident Williams warned MacDonald about his deteriorating reputation among drug users. These people were unstable and angry, and many armed. Once again, MacDonald said he wasn’t concerned about it.
By the next day, his wife and daughters were killed.
At 3:33 AM on February 17th, 1970, a telephone operator took a frantic call. A man’s voice frantically called for military policemen and an ambulance at 544 Castle Drive, MacDonald’s home address, and said that there had been stabbings. The operator told him that he’d have to call the MPs himself, at which point MacDonald presumably dropped unconscious and dropped the phone. The operator then dialed the MPs at Fort Bragg, gave the desk sergeant the address, and then waited a few minutes. She heard a noise in her receiver, asked if it was Captain MacDonald, which it was. MacDonald began to plead for help again, when the operator connected the relays between the MP office and MacDonald’s home. MacDonald told the desk sergeant what had happened. The operator then heard the sergeant yell to someone, "Get me Womack ASAP!"(Potter and Bost 14) At 3:42 AM, the MP dispatcher issued a domestic disturbance call to all cruising MPs. Kenneth Mica and Dennis Morris, two of the first responders, did not hurry as this was only a "DD". As they approached the apartment, saw a woman standing alone at a corner in very strange dress: a floppy hat and a raincoat hemmed to the waist. This sighting was about three blocks away, at 3:55 AM. Mica later said that if he were not responding to a call he would have checked her out. When Mica and Morris arrived on the scene they found 6 other MPs already there. Lieutenant Paulk ordered the MPs to check the back. Sergeant Richard Tevere was the first to find the bodies. Soon afterwards, the rest of the MPs saw two bodies in the master bedroom, one dead, one alive-the alive one being Jeffrey MacDonald, in only his pajama bottoms. MacDonald described what had happened earlier: he had awoken to the screams of his wife and children while sleeping on the couch. However, he was attacked while trying to aid them by three men. One was wearing a field jacket with sergeant’s stripes on it. The other two were white. One carried a bladed weapon. MacDonald said that he thought they were originally just punching him, not stabbing him. (Potter and Bost) He caught a fleeting glimpse of a woman in a floppy hat. MacDonald said about the woman, "She carried a flickering light, perhaps a candle."(Kurrich and Laba) He had attempted to fight off his assailants to no avail. He had then fallen unconscious. Later, he had awoken, made his first frantic call, and then fallen unconscious again. The next thing he awoke to were the MPs’ helmets surrounding him.
But did these hippies really exist? That is the question that William Ivory, the Army Criminal Investigation Division agent on duty that night, asked himself. Although Ivory was mainly a narcotics cop and had no experience with murder cases, and had just completed the basic investigation course last year, he arrived on the scene at 4:15 AM. He began looking around the scene of the crime, careful not to touch anything, turning the lights on and off using his ballpoint pen. A flowerpot sitting upright in the living room aroused his interest. If MacDonald had fought intruders, and if that flowerpot had been knocked over in the fight, why was it standing upright and not on its side as logic would dictate? Ivory also found numerous items that suggested that MacDonald was lying. The small living room did not indicate, to Ivory, that a struggle had ever occurred. The magazines under the coffee table seemed stacked too neatly, and so on. The clincher, to Ivory, was a blue pajama fiber protruding from a blood clot beneath Colette’s head. By 5:30 PM that day, all the CID authorities at Fort Bragg were in consensus-MacDonald was their prime suspect. (Potter and Bost 42-44.) (MacDonald would remain this way throughout the rest of the case.) Before long though, the North Carolina State Board of Investigation became involved, mainly because of MacDonald’s reports of civilians within the apartment. Federal law requires the FBI to assume control of a felony investigation on a military post when civilians are involved.(Potter and Bost 44.) A four-day turf war occurred between the FBI and the CID. FBI and CID agents clashed over key pieces of evidence, such as candle wax found in interesting places, several unidentified hairs, and blood. The army agents continued to resist, firmly believing that MacDonald, and only he, had committed the murders.
The army always based its claims that the crime scene was professionally processed and analyzed and that the evidence was never contaminated, but CID statements show that to be untrue. That very same day, a makeshift CID lab team arrived, and began to record the scene. Howard Page, a CID crime scene photographer, seemed to be having a bad day: he had forgotten his fingerprint camera, his tripod, and proper lighting equipment. As a result, all of his photographs of the crime scene were badly lit, out of focus, and blurry. Before all the photography of the apartment was completed, Hilyard O. Medlin (the CID lab chief) and Page had destroyed by fair means or foul nine good fingerprints and three palm prints. Ralph Turbyfill, another CID lab technician, attempted to obtain fingerprints from all the victims. Medlin inexplicably told Turbyfill not to get prints from the children. Only Colette’s were taken, and those were incomplete, due to Turbyfill not knowing how to massage a hand to soften rigor mortis long enough to get a good print(Potter and Bost 46). Medlin also attempted to get the important hallway floorboards where there were footprints-in the spot where MacDonald had allegedly fallen unconscious. But Medlin accidentally destroyed the floorboards as he was cutting them out. In order to further their own agenda, the CID erroneously reported that they were MacDonald’s footprints. That same hallway was not processed until 3 days after the murders, after many wet shoes and boots had been through it and had washed away several more pieces of evidence, which included bloodspots, fibers, and a hair. The CID agents also used the telephone, the coffee maker, and the toilet before all collections of evidence were complete (Potter and Bost 47).
A recent copy of Esquire magazine seemed especially incriminating for it included an article on the Manson murders, which were in the press at the time. This magazine was also handled by the CID agents, contaminating that piece of evidence. There was a bloody smear on one of the pages, which was attributed to MacDonald, but was not originally there the night of the murders. The CID agents never admitted handling the magazine later; furthermore, MacDonald’s original prints on the magazine were worthless because he lived at the apartment! (Potter and Bost 47) Yet the CID misinterpreted them as more evidence that MacDonald was lying.
The army based its guilty charges on the crime scene as Ivory found it. Ivory failed, however, to check to see if anything at all had been changed, moved, or otherwise modified, when he formed his “staged-scene" theory. The scene was not cordoned off immediately when the MPs arrived on the scene. Some examples of poor crime scene control: some spectators and late arriving MPs were allowed to walk around freely in the home. Windows in the home that were at first open (perhaps corroborating MacDonald’s claims of intruders) were closed alter. Drawers that had been rifled through and were open were also later closed. Several items that were stolen or otherwise lost also illustrate the poor control of the crime scene: a bottle of prescription amphetamines missing after the CID arrived later in the murder morning, MacDonald’s wallet gone, and two of Colette’s rings were also missing. (Potter and Bost 50-51) Also, an unidentified man was allowed to sit on the couch where MacDonald had allegedly laid. An MP later revealed that he saw this man move the suspect flowerpot. (Potter and Bost 52)
There were yet more problems with Ivory’s staged-scene theory. Fingerprints had been accidentally wiped from the baby’s bottle, the telephones, and the knife used in the murders. Blood on that same knife had also been wiped off. No one knows who did these things, so who did it, and why? Plus, Ivory either missed or willfully ignored the following pieces of evidence: blond wig strands in a hairbrush in the bathroom, a burnt match in the base of the radiator in one of the children’s rooms. (Neither MacDonald nor Colette smoked, and neither child was allowed to play with matches. (Potter and Bost 60) ) There was also a syringe with blood on it with an unidentified fluid inside, and multiple pairs of bloody gloves. (Why would MacDonald, if he committed the murders, need more than one pair?) (Potter and Bost 59-60) The bungled investigation of the crime scene soon concluded, and it still stood that MacDonald was the CID’s man.
On April 6th, MacDonald visited the Ft. Bragg CID chief, Franz Joseph “Joe" Grebner to ask for an update on the case and also to inquire on some personal articles to use in a new apartment.(Potter and Bost 88) When MacDonald entered his office, two CID agents, William Ivory and Robert Shaw fell into step behind him. The door was closed behind him, and MacDonald was asked to repeat his story, which he complied with. Then Grebner told him that they believed that MacDonald, not a group of intruders, had committed the crimes. They pressed MacDonald to take a lie detector test. MacDonald agreed, after Grebner told him that such a test was foolproof. MacDonald, at this time, believed that the polygraph test would clear things up; he thought he was just facing simple incompetence. MacDonald drove home, and then returned to the CID headquarters that afternoon to be polygraphed. Grebner, however, had not taken the necessary measures to set up a lie detector test. MacDonald suspected something more sinister than just simple incompetence. Going on the offensive in the taped interview, MacDonald attacked the agents’ reasoning. He asked then whether they had ever considered his pajama bottoms (which he had worn throughout the house) as the source of the mystery fibers. He also vigorously attacked several other points that they had brought against them. His accusers offered little to no response to his rebuttals. Finally, an exasperated MacDonald, “What do you want me to say?" His crying was now audible on the tape. “You’re telling me I staged the scene and that’s it? It’s ridiculous!" Vicious questioning from Grebner followed with equally tearful replies from MacDonald. Finally, MacDonald cut to the heart of the matter, with the statement that characterized the defense complaints for the next twenty-three years: “You mean to tell me you found no other fingerprints of any aliens on any weapons or anything in that house?" (Potter and Bost 88-91)
Grebner had been informed of much exculpatory evidence by the CID lab, of course, but he maintained his belief that MacDonald was the only person in the house that morning. He used MacDonald’s inability to explain why certain things had changed position or was not where they were supposed to be as a reason to place MacDonald under house arrest. MacDonald was arraigned for an Article 32 hearing to see if he should stand a full court-martial. After a six-week hearing, in which many facts, many damaging to the CID, were presented to the presiding officer, Colonel Warren V. Rock, he released a report recommending dismissing all charges against MacDonald because they “were not true". He also recommended that Helena Stoeckley, one of the people allegedly involved in the murders, and her compatriots be investigated by civilian authorities. The army cleared MacDonald not because the charges were “not true" as the Rock report had said, but because of “insufficient evidence", a far more sinister ruling that allowed the CID to pursue MacDonald into civilian life (illegally!). Early on, the hearings were closed, to prevent any more damaging material out. MacDonald’s defense attorney, Bernard Segal, therefore felt a duty, along with MacDonald’s father in law, Albert “Freddie" Kassab, to keep the press informed on the army’s incompetence. These gave MacDonald more than a few enemies, and made the CID hold its stance even more firmly that MacDonald was guilty; even though the rest of the world was beginning to believe his innocence. (Boston) The murders had scuttled MacDonald’s chances for a successful career as a military medical doctor. He applied for a hardship discharge, which he was granted.
Stoeckley, a colonel’s daughter, was a key informant to the Fayetteville Inter-Agency Narcotics Bureau. MacDonald’s defense attorney, Bernard Segal, had no idea that she had come to both the local police and the CID and had made admissions to both of them, but this was not broken to Segal or MacDonald himself. The woman on the corner that MP Mica had seen on the corner the night of the murders was Stoeckley, although Mica had been told to not report this sighting. She had no alibi for the time of the murders. She also admitted to wearing a cheap blonde wig, a floppy hat, and boots at the time of the murders. (Kurrich and Laba) Her boyfriend, Greg Mitchell, was a drug addict and soldier, and was allegedly in the apartment at the time of the murders. He had asked for immediate discharge and re-enlistment back to Vietnam following the murders-a highly unusual request. (Potter and Bost 262)
MacDonald used his new-found celebrity status to put fire on the CID at any chance he could, doing the entire talk-show circuit. This only ensured MacDonald’s downfall-doing talk shows about something so grave diminished him in the eyes of many people, especially his in-laws (Boston). In August 1974, a grand jury was presented a new theory about MacDonald. After the prosecutor tricked the jury into believing that a sodium amytal test would be of no use, the jury indicted MacDonald and he was subsequently arrested.
Bernard Segal, still MacDonald’s defense attorney, fought MacDonald’s indictment on speedy-trial issues, proof of prosecutorial misconduct, the “deception" of the sodium amytal test, and with a double-jeopardy writ (the Fourth Amendment provision that no person may be tried twice for the same crime). He won on his efforts in 1976, but lost in 1978 when the government appealed to the Supreme Court. The double jeopardy writ failed though, because the courts found that the Article 32 hearing was not a judicial proceeding, so the double-jeopardy rule did not apply. (Potter and Bost 126) MacDonald’s trial was set for the summer of 1979 after much legal jockeying. After MacDonald had been bailed out and he had arranged his job affairs, he departed for North Carolina to be tried. Bernard Segal prepared his brief for trial, not even knowing if he had a case in the first place. For four long years, Segal battled with Brian Murtagh, chief prosecutor, to obtain the CID lab notes that were the basis for the government’s case. Murtagh never allowed them. Finally, a day before trial, Murtagh allowed an assistant of Segal to eyeball the evidence but not be able to lab-test it in any way. This was part of the government’s plan of suppressing evidence from the defense.
When trial began, the critical Rock report had been disallowed by Judge Dupree’s ruling that the report, in fact, was a judiciary proceeding. Segal cried foul! Unfortunately, his motions were for naught. Throughout the trial, the prosecuted performed various acts of misconduct, some blatant, some not so much. For example, Janice Glisson, a CID lab technician, was an expert on both blood and fibers. However, the prosecution posed her as only an expert on blood, limiting the jury’s knowledge. A false science experiment, and one that was important to the prosecution’s case, was that concerning the folding of Colette MacDonald’s pajama top to fit the stab wounds in her. Segal nearly disproved this during cross-examination of Paul Strombough, when the judge helped reverse this and keep the false pajama folding experiment “truths" alive.(Potter and Bost 148-153) Brian Murtagh, chief prosecutor of the case, also never turned over the lab notes to Segal during trial. (Kurrich and Laba). In the end, the jurors were frustrated with the government’s case, but they voted to convict anyway. (Even the jurors didn’t believe the government!) Judge Dupree wasted no time in sentencing MacDonald to three consecutive terms of life imprisonment. (Potter and Bost 242).
Joe McGinniss, a member of the defense team and an author, had been looking for a new title to write. Finding his material in the case he was involved in, he got writing, the book's original title to be Acid and Rain. MacDonald fully complied with McGinniss while writing the book. MacDonald was essentially duped by McGinniss; McGinniss put the value of the story ahead of his journalistic integrity. When his publisher (Dell-Delacorte) threatened to walk out on him, and also demanding back their advance of three hundred thousand dollars back to McGinniss, McGinniss switched publishers, rewrote his book from the point of view that MacDonald was guilty, changed the title to Fatal Vision, and published it. Since it was perceived as the unbiased and true account of MacDonald’s guilt or innocence, it threatened to scuttle the defense team’s actual efforts. MacDonald could not sue for libel due to the wording of his contract. (Potter and Bost 319) But he could sue for breach-of-contract and for fraud, which he did. Eventually McGinniss settled out-of-court for $350,000. But the book seriously hampered MacDonald’s appeal efforts thereon, due to the power of the printed word. It also was the subject of a book, The Journalist and the Murderer, which showed how just about anyone who is being interviewed for a book or other article can be screwed over.
To date, MacDonald has not won a single appeal. They have been turned down by "judiciary law", most especially the Supreme Court's decision in a certain case that effectively destroyed second habeas corpus appeals and because of the skullduggery on the government’s part. His DNA testing is set to start immediately after the 9/11 mess is totally cleared up. When it does begin, and DNA evidence shows that MacDonald is innocent, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in recent memory will finally be cleared up, and MacDonald will be served real justice, not the misplaced kind he received in his "fair" trial.
"Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald by John Boston". 1998. Courtroom Television LLC. 3/10/2002.
Potter, Bost. Fatal justice: reinvestigating the MacDonald murders.
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995.
Kurrich and Laba. Introduction. Fall 2000. 2/24/2002.