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

AP News
Posted: Sep 17, 2012 2:04 PM
Ex-Green Beret in court in 'Fatal Vision' case

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Jeffrey MacDonald began another bid Monday to prove his innocence more than three decades after the former Green Beret was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and their two daughters.

MacDonald's hearing on whether he gets a new trial started with his attorney arguing that jurors would have found him not guilty in 1979 if they could have considered new DNA evidence and witness testimony.

MacDonald, 68, has never wavered from his claim that he didn't kill his wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen. He has maintained that he awoke on their sofa in their home at Fort Bragg in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, as they were being attacked by three men and a woman.

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

At the hearing Monday, prosecutors focused on Helena Stoeckley, who had told various people she was in the MacDonald home when the family was killed, but testified during McDonald's trial that she didn't remember where she was that night.

Wade Smith, one of MacDonald's trial attorneys, said Monday that during defense interviews on Aug. 16, 1979, 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 just before the hearing broke for lunch. "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.

U.S. District Court Judge James Fox is hearing the case, which focuses on two pieces of evidence: three hairs found in the home that didn't belong to anyone in the family and a statement from former deputy U.S. Marshal Jimmy Britt.

In 2005, Britt came to Smith and told him that Stoeckley told him as he drove her to the trial that she was in the MacDonald house that night. MacDonald has said a woman wearing a floppy hat and a blonde wig chanted "acid is groovy, kill the pigs" while three men killed his family.

Britt also said in affidavits that Stoeckley told prosecutor Jim Blackburn that she was the house, but that he intimidated her by telling her that he would charge her with first-degree murder if she testified to that.

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

Blackburn later went into private practice. He was disbarred and served a prison sentence for ethical violations.

The killings came just three months after the Manson Family slayings in California were revealed, 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 McDonald home; the same was on the door of pregnant Manson victim Sharon Tate's house in Los Angeles.

MacDonald is attending the hearing, wearing a khaki prison uniform and shackles on his ankle. His wife, Kathryn, is in the courtroom, as is Colette MacDonald's brother, Bob Stevenson.