By Judy Royal
WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - An Army doctor whose conviction in North Carolina for the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters spawned several books and a television mini-series will try this week to prove his innocence through the most comprehensive review of the 42-year-old case yet.
Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret whose crime prompted the bestseller "Fatal Vision," is serving three life sentences for the stabbing and clubbing deaths of his family members in their Fort Bragg, North Carolina, apartment in February 1970.
MacDonald, now 68, has long maintained his innocence and blamed a foursome of drug-crazed hippies for killing his wife, Colette, and daughters Kristen and Kimberly, ages 2 and 5. He described one of the intruders as a blonde woman in a floppy hat who he said chanted "acid is groovy; kill the pigs."
Courts have so far upheld his conviction, but MacDonald's lawyers are hoping for a different outcome when they present new evidence uncovered since his 1979 trial at a federal court hearing starting on Monday in Wilmington.
The evidence includes a sworn statement by a now deceased former federal marshal alleging that the lead prosecutor in the case intimidated a key witness into changing her testimony, and DNA test results of hair found by the bodies that did not belong to Jeffrey MacDonald or any of his family members.
Unlike before, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered in April 2011 that Senior District Judge James C. Fox must weigh the new evidence in light of all the other evidence previously gathered rather than considering it piecemeal.
"This is the first one where the evidence as a whole will be considered," said Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, which has taken up part of MacDonald's case.
"At hearings in the past, the judge has considered isolated evidentiary issues," she said. "Looking at them in isolation may not have been enough to impact a jury verdict. But the consolidated evidence might well have been enough."
(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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