Ex-Green Beret in court in 'Fatal Vision' case

September 17, 2012 - 6:35 PM
Fatal Vision

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 1979 file photo, Jeffrey MacDonald, right, appears in federal court in Wilmington, N.C. MacDonald's pregnant wife and two young daughters were murdered in in their Fort Bragg home in 1970. MacDonald was convicted of the crimes. On Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, MacDonald is scheduled to appear in federal court in Wilmington, N.C., for a hearing about new evidence in the case. (AP Photo, File)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — For more than 40 years, Jeffrey MacDonald has never wavered from his claim that intruders killed his pregnant wife and two daughters. On Monday, the former Green Beret doctor came into federal court with new evidence he hopes will clear his name.

The evidence involves DNA on hairs found in the apartment on Fort Bragg and a statement from a deputy U.S. marshal. The marshal said a woman told him she was in the apartment in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, when Colette, Kimberly and Kristen MacDonald were stabbed and beaten to death.

MacDonald, 68, has always maintained that he awoke on a sofa in the home as three men attacked his family and a woman, wearing a blonde wig and a floppy hat, chanted "acid is groovy, kill the pigs."

Testimony on Monday focused on the statement from the marshal, Jimmy Britt, and on Helena Stoeckley, a drug addict and troubled woman who repeatedly said outside of court that she was in the MacDonald home. She testified, however, that she didn't remember where she was that night.

MacDonald's attorneys said jurors wouldn't have found him guilty in 1979 if they could have considered the marshal's statement and DNA evidence that shows three hairs found in the home on the night of the killings did not belonging to any family member.

Those who believe MacDonald committed the killings have said the hairs could have come from anyone — neighbors or other people who had been in the home.

Wade Smith, one of MacDonald's trial attorneys, testified Monday about how Britt came to him in 2005 to say Stoeckley told him she was in the apartment when the MacDonalds were killed. Britt also said he heard the prosecutor, Jim Blackburn, tell Stoeckley that he would charge her in the case if she testified to that on the stand.

Britt, who has since died, came forward because "he wanted to unload his heart and his soul," Smith testified. Stoeckley also is dead.

Blackburn, who later went into private practice, was disbarred and served a prison sentence for ethical violations. He is expected to be called as a witness.

But Smith also said a day before the trial that Stoeckley never said anything in his presence that helped prove MacDonald's innocence.

"I was absolutely devoted to the case and upheld my role as counsel," Smith said. "I'm still devoted to the case. But I did not hear Helena Stoeckley say useful things for us."

Smith said it was possible Stoeckley said something outside his presence.

MacDonald's lead attorney at the time, Bernard Segal, had indicated to the trial judge that Stoeckley made several statements to the defense that were helpful, including that she remembered standing at the end of the couch where MacDonald was sleeping. But she did not say that on the stand, and Smith said he didn't hear her say that.

Smith testified for most of Monday as prosecutors questioned him about inaccuracies in Britt's five statements. He said at various times that he picked up Stoeckley in Greenville, S.C., or Charleston, S.C., and that he dropped Stoeckley off at a hotel when she was in custody. He later said he took her to the jail.

Britt's ex-wife, Mary, was the last witness of the day. She talked about how excited Britt was when he came home from picking up Stoeckley and how upset he was when MacDonald was found guilty. Stoeckley, he told her, described the MacDonalds' apartment "to a T," she said.

After the verdict, his supervisor asked him to lock up MacDonald, he said. "I told him I was not doing any more of the dirty work," her husband told her. Instead, he left work early.

The slayings came six months after the Manson Family slayings in California, feeding into fears that Manson-type killers were on the loose in North Carolina. The word "pig" was written in blood on a headboard at the MacDonald home; the same was on the door of pregnant Manson victim Sharon Tate's house in Los Angeles.

The crime became the basis of Joe McGinniss' best-selling book "Fatal Vision" and a made-for-TV drama.

MacDonald's wife, Kathryn, is in the courtroom, as is Colette MacDonald's brother, Bob Stevenson.