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Army doctor seeks new trial in ‘Fatal Vision’ murder case

RALEIGH, N.C. — Former Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald, serving three life sentences for the 1970 murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters at Fort Bragg, is seeking a new trial based on DNA evidence.

In motions filed Wednesday, attorneys for MacDonald asked a federal court to consider the DNA test results that already exist and order a new trial. If a judge denies that motion, the attorneys asked the court to allow them to inspect all physical evidence for the presence of biological evidence and to subject that evidence to new DNA testing.

The order says both The Innocence Project, a New York-based group that uses DNA evidence to exonerate people, and the Durham-based North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence have agreed to pay for the new testing.

U.S. District Court Judge James Fox has scheduled a hearing in the case for Oct. 31, although the DNA evidence will be considered later, according to J. Hart Miles Jr., one of MacDonald’s lawyers.

“We’re extremely pleased that the judge saw fit to call an evidentiary hearing, and we look forward to be being prepared for it,” said Kathryn MacDonald, who has been married to the imprisoned former Army doctor for 10 years. “We’ve waited a long time for this opportunity and I can’t wait to relay the news to Jeff.”

MacDonald has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He claims that he and his family were attacked by three men and a woman with long blond hair, a floppy hat and boots who carried a lighted candle and chanted “acid is groovy; kill the pigs.”

MacDonald has said they knocked him unconscious and killed his pregnant wife, Colette, and daughters Kimberley and Kristen. The deaths grabbed the attention of a nation still reeling from the Charles Manson murders just six months earlier.

The Innocence Project and the North Carolina group say the new testing can be completed quickly, the motion says.

In an affidavit attached to the motion, Chris Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, said DNA testing has advanced since MacDonald’s initial request for DNA testing in 1997. Among items that might be tested are the weapons, including a piece of wood used as a club; two paring knives and an ice pick, Mumma said in the affidavit.

Other items that might be tested include fingernail scrapings taken from the victims, pieces from a surgical glove presumably worn by the perpetrator and blood drops and smears taken from areas where it appears the perpetrator touched things or may have bled.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Fox improperly refused to consider DNA evidence and witness statements in MacDonald’s bid to prove his innocence.

In his most recent bid for exoneration, MacDonald presented DNA test results from a hair found under the fingernail of his 5-year-old daughter Kimberley. The DNA did not match anyone in the MacDonald family.

The other key piece of new evidence is a statement from retired Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Britt that he heard prosecutor James Blackburn threaten witness Helena Stoeckley, the woman MacDonald claims was wearing a floppy hat and blonde wig in his house the night of the murders. Britt claimed that Blackburn threatened to charge Stoeckley with the slayings if she testified that she was in the MacDonald house that night as she had said. Instead, she testified that she couldn’t recall where she was. Britt and Stoeckley have since died.

Britt’s statement will be considered during the Oct. 31 hearing, Miles said.

In addition to the Britt statement and the DNA evidence, the appeals court said Fox should consider statements by Stoeckley’s boyfriend, Greg Mitchell, and her mother supporting MacDonald’s version of the events. Mitchell and the elder Stoeckley also are dead.

In that decision, the federal appeals court said it was only ruling that the lower court must consider all the evidence and not on whether MacDonald deserved a new trial.

“The truth is there hiding in plain sight and we have always wanted an opportunity to have all the truth laid out and looked at together in open court, and that seems to be where it’s moving,” Kathryn MacDonald said.