In February of 1970 the wife and two small children of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, a physician and a Green Beret, were killed in their Fort Bragg home. MacDonald was wounded with a concussion and a stab wound that collapsed a lung and was dangerously near his heart.
When questioned during the initial military investigation MacDonald did not ask for a lawyer and was very frank about his experience that night. An Article 32 hearing, a sort of grand jury investigation, found no reason whatever to prosecute MacDonald. The colonel in charge declared there was no case. MacDonald did not do this terrible thing.
But his father-in-law, who had supported him for a time, became by his own admission obsessed with the case and pursued it for a decade until the civilian courts arrested MacDonald and tried him in 1979 for the murders. He was found guilty. Joe McGinnis wrote a powerful book, Fatal Vision, that stated flatly that MacDonald was guilty and that book has created the narrative that most people accept. There is another narrative, however, and as the years go by and more evidence comes to light, it seems there is a possibility that the man has been in jail for 33 years for something he did not do. He has refused to apply for parole because he insists he is not guilty and parole is not granted unless the prisoner shows regret for what he has done. Jeffrey MacDonald would rather stay in jail than state that he did this crime.
The case is remarkably complex with level-headed and responsible people on both sides making arguments why he is really innocent or truly guilty and undeserving of a new trial. I've read quite a bit about this case (I can remember it in the news over the years, including a hearing just last month) and I do not know whether the man killed his family or not. After reading McGinnis' book I thought the case was convincing but after reading about the things that were not allowed to be brought up in the trial I tend (silly me) to assume he is innocent unless proven guilty. One thing most law enforcement and lawyers now agree on is that he did not receive a fair trial and he was most certainly not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is widely felt that MacDonald was railroaded.
I've read quite a bit about this case, in the news and in three books that present all sides of the story. Briefly, the main argument for MacDonald's innocence is the botched investigation. More than 20 people were milling around the crime scene the morning after the murders, including a couple of people no one could identify. The confession of a young girl who claimed to be there that night was kept from the jury because the judge thought her testimony was unreliable, though the defense had six people who said they had heard her confess. Much evidence was kept from the defense and the judge, a North Carolina good-old-boy, was obviously biased againse the chief defence lawyer. (The prosecutor was his son-in-law but nobody saw this as conflict of interest.)
Recently a US marshal testified that he was present when the prosecution threatened the girl who had confessed, which explains why her testimony to the defence lawyers changed dramatically overnight to complete denial. And new DNA evidence indicates that there are unidentifiable hairs found near or on the body of MacDonald's wife and under the fingernail of his daughter -- places where they were unlikely to be unless they were those of the attacker.
Last month this and much other new information was presented to the judge who replaced the trial judge. Unfortunately, although appeals courts have repeatedly over the years sent the case back to the federal court in North Carolina to be looked at again in light of new evidence, the trial judge and now this new judge who was a close friend and protege of the original judge have refused to accept the new evidence. We will know whether this latest attempt to have the case looked at afresh will result in anything or not in a couple of months. But as long as the same in-crowd run that North Carolina court the liklihood of any real justice is slim.