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Attorney: ‘Fatal Vision’ murders court case will continue

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The case of the Green Beret doctor who has maintained for decades that not him but a band of hippies chanting “acid is groovy, kill the pigs” slaughtered his wife and two young daughters will continue in court.

Despite the latest judicial rejection of his claims of innocence and a request for a new trial, his attorney Gordon Widenhouse said Friday, “There’s going to be further litigation.”

(Credit: ThinkStock)

Jeffrey MacDonald, 70, is serving a life sentence for the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters, who were killed Feb. 17, 1970, in the family apartment at Fort Bragg. MacDonald – who was convicted in 1979, released in 1980 and returned to prison in 1982 – has maintained his innocence for the last 44 years.

In a decision based on a hearing held almost two years ago, Judge James C. Fox rejected both MacDonald’s claim of innocence and his appeal. ” … the court finds that MacDonald has not established, by clear and convincing evidence, that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty of the murder of his wife and two daughters …” Fox wrote, adding that MacDonald “failed to establish any assumed actual innocence claim.”

At that hearing, MacDonald’s attorneys emphasized that Helena Stoeckley, who testified at MacDonald’s trial, wasn’t involved in the murders and that she didn’t know where she was when Colette, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen were killed. Her attorney, Jerry Leonard, testified at the 2012 hearing that Stoeckley, who died in 1983, told him two versions of events: that she wasn’t in the apartment and that she was, but that she didn’t participate in the murders.

“We’re obviously disappointed that Judge Fox denied our requests for relief because we thought we had presented credible evidence that the (trial) jury had not heard, particularly from Helena Stoeckley, which we thought would have made a difference, given the circumstantial evidence the prosecutor presented at that trial,” Widenhouse said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker said in a news release that MacDonald will have to seek permission from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to appeal Fox’s ruling.

MacDonald’s attorneys also argued that new evidence, including DNA from the apartment that didn’t match MacDonald or his family, supported MacDonald’s claims. They also called witnesses to testify about statements by a retired U.S. marshal, who is now dead, that a prosecutor pressured Stoeckley to lie on the stand.

The statements by the marshal likely “are fabrications or confused memories,” Fox wrote, which made all of them “incredible and unreliable.” The DNA evidence “is far from clear and convincing of MacDonald’s actual innocence,” the judge wrote.

Bob Stevenson, Colette MacDonald’s brother, said Friday that he takes “absolute and total satisfaction” in Fox’s decision. He said he wasn’t surprised that MacDonald plans to keep pursuing the case.

“I know it will never be over until he is dead or I am dead,” Stevenson said.

The MacDonald family murders brought chills to the community, coming just months after the murders by the Charles Manson followers in California, where “pig” was written in blood on the door of the home where actress Sharon Tate and four others were killed. And like the Manson murders, the MacDonald killings led to books, the famous of which was “Fatal Vision.”

Written by author Joe McGinness, the book – and the television miniseries based on it – concluded MacDonald was guilty. Just before the 2012 hearing for MacDonald, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’ book, “A Wilderness of Error,” was published. Morris concluded that MacDonald did not get a fair trial and might not be guilty.

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