Why Jeffrey MacDonald's Murder Conviction for Killing His Family Is Still Being Debated
In 1970, army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald insisted that drug-addled hippies murdered his wife and kids, but authorities didn't buy it. FX's A Wilderness of Error probes the complicated story.
recently. "It's certainly a loss of control, because I'm a character in someone else's series. But it's a case that I feel very passionate about and I'm happy to talk about it. It's a really tangled story."He wanted his book to supplement the widely accepted version of events, which stemmed mainly from McGinniss' book and the 1984 miniseries, writing in his prologue that "the important question was lost under the heap: Had anyone proved that Jeffrey MacDonald was guilty of the murder of his family?"
In the postscript to his book, Morris recalled the events of the federal appellate hearing in September 2012, at which McGinniss testified and during which MacDonald's lawyer asked the judge to consider new forensic evidence: Hairs that didn't belong to any member of the MacDonald family, including a fragment found under Kristen's fingernail.
FX/BlumhouseIt was determined that the presence of the hair proved nothing, but what the judge described as "somewhat exculpatory" was an affidavit submitted that detailed a confession made by Helena Stoeckley (who died in 1983 of complications of cirrhosis) to Jerry Leonard, an attorney appointed to represent Stoeckley in the summer of 1970.
On Aug. 29, 1970, according to Leonard, Stoeckley told him she was at the MacDonald house when the murders were committed. "She stated she belonged to a cult...At least one man in the group had an issue against Dr. MacDonald...Ms. Stoeckley said this man talked them into going to Dr. MacDonald's house to confront MacDonald about this unfair treatment...the end result was that things got out of hand and the people she was with committed the murders."
Stoeckley had been a witness at MacDonald's trial in 1979, but his attorney Wade Smith hadn't been able to get the witness-stand confession—that she was there when the murders took place, as she had said on more than one occasion during the investigation—that he was angling for. Rather, she flatly denied having been there.
Shane Young/AP/ShutterstockJimmy B. Britt, a U.S. marshal who died in 2008, left behind a 2005 affidavit in which he also claimed that Stoeckley had confessed to him in 1979 that she witnessed the murders—and that prosecutors had threatened her with a murder charge if she reiterated as much on the stand.
Morris concluded in his postscript that if a jury had heard that Stoeckler had confessed to her attorney, an officer of the court and someone to be trusted, then MacDonald would have been acquitted."I feel pretty strongly that this is a messed-up case, and it was messed up by the police and by the prosecution from the get-go," the filmmaker and author told the
GlobeMichael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty ImagesAlso in 2012, however, in aprofile journalistGene Weingartenconcluded that Morris' book cherry-picked from the available facts and left out some of the more damning evidence against the doctor.
Brian Murtagh, the only remaining prosecutor from 1979 still on the team tasked with ensuring MacDonald remained behind bars, wrote a 14-page rebuttal to Morris' claims, a document he showed to Weingarten. (At the time, the lawyer said he still had one occasional recurring nightmare from those days, that he'd show up at the ER badly injured and MacDonald was the doctor on call.)
ThePostwriter slammed the unquestioning laudatory reviews of Morris' book as "careless and gullible," while asserting his own opinion thatFatal Visionwas "among the best true-crime books ever written." (Though Weingarten was of the opinion that McGinniss "unattractively betrayed" MacDonald.)
Weingarten thought it would have been more surprising if authorities had truly invested in Stoeckley's ever-changing version of events. He reported that DNA found at the crime scene was tested against samples from various men she named as accomplices over the years, resulting in zero matches.Read more: E! News »
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After watching how writers and journalists behaved for the last 4 years I don’t believe anything. Calling someone a sociopath is unprovable here. Some people think Trump voters are Nazis. Macdonald deserves new trial
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