MacDonald returns to court in 'Fatal Vision' case

Jeffrey MacDonald

September 17, 2012 3:30:35 PM PDT
A hearing that could determine whether a former green beret gets a new trial decades after he was convicted of killing his family began Monday in federal court.

A defense attorney said Monday that if jurors in 1979 could have considered two new types of evidence in Jeffrey MacDonald's case, they would have found him not guilty.

MacDonald is serving three life sentences for the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife, Colette, and their daughters, Kimberley and Kristen. The case terrified the nation and was the basis for the book "Fatal Vision."

Over the years, the former green beret has maintained his story that a group of drug-crazed hippies broke into his Fort Bragg house while he slept on a couch. MacDonald said they fatally stabbed and beat his pregnant wife and two daughters, then stabbed him and left him for dead.

At Monday's hearing, defense attorney Gordon Widenhouse started producing evidence to get MacDonald a new trial, after prosecutors chose not to give an opening statement.

MacDonald's case hinges on testing the DNA of hair found in the home and a deputy U.S. marshal's claim that a prosecutor intimidated a witness.

Widenhouse said new DNA evidence from hair underneath one of MacDonald's daughter's fingernails belonged to one of the alleged intruders.

He also said a key witnesses, Helena Stoeckley, admitted she was in the house the night of the murders. Widenhouse said she was threatened by the prosecution that she would be charged with murder if she made that statement during court testimony.

The federal court judge overseeing MacDonald's hearing has heard the claims about Stoeckley during an earlier appeal.

His decision to dismiss the case was overturned by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and was sent back to him to take a second look and review the DNA evidence as well. Judge James Fox can order a new trial, dismiss the case or set MacDonald free.

Testimony is expected to last about two weeks.

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