A retrial motion by Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret doctor serving three consecutive life sentences here for the murder of his wife and two daughters, is to be heard Monday in Raleigh, N.C., on the basis of evidence produced since his conviction in 1979.
The evidence -- much of it contradictory -- includes confessions by three members of what MacDonald says was a band of drug-crazed hippies that committed the murders after breaking into his Fort Bragg, N.C., apartment on Feb. 17, 1970, as well as statements from 25 other people corroborating parts of their stories.
U.S. Attorney Brian Murtagh, who prosecuted the case in 1979 and is defending the government against the retrial motion, said MacDonald is "picking and choosing among loonies" in presenting the multiple confessions.
MacDonald acknowledged in an interview at the federal correctional institute here that one confession "is not consistent on a lot of details" but said, "What do you expect? I didn't pick my assailants. The government's position is an incredible Catch-22: Because these people were crazy drug abusers, their testimony is inadmissible."
His motion also is based on revelations about physical evidence lost, destroyed or not revealed at trial by government investigators, and of which MacDonald and his lawyers learned only after obtaining 25,000 pages of prosecution documents in 1983.
That evidence includes the disclosure that investigators took a piece of skin from underneath MacDonald's wife's fingernail after the murder -- "the signature of the murderer," according to MacDonald's lawyer, Brian O'Neill. The skin was lost before it could be analyzed to determine whether it matched MacDonald's.
In addition, MacDonald contends that the prosecution lost negatives of seven "unknown but typable" fingerprints taken at the murder scene, lost bloody boots and clothing allegedly given by Helena Stoeckley to Cathy Perry Williams (both of whom confessed to being part of a group that committed the murders) after the incident, and hid from the defense and jury the existence of a half-filled syringe found in a closet of the MacDonald apartment near blood.
Murtagh noted that the most recent confession from Williams came the day before the television movie "Fatal Vision," based on author Joe McGinniss' best-selling book about the murders, was aired.
"She is watching an advertisement for the movie, and for some reason she decides she better confess . . . , " he said. "Nothing that she said corroborates what Stoeckley or MacDonald have said. You have so many different versions it's like a wilderness of mirrors.
"If this shows anything, it shows the case holds an attraction to the mentally ill and the lunatic fringe," Murtagh said.
MacDonald's story from the start has been that four intruders entered his apartment while he was sleeping, perhaps seeking to threaten him because they mistakenly thought he was reporting drug abusers on the base to military police, and while they were there went berserk, stabbing him 17 times, knocking him unconscious and murdering his family.
The government says the murder scene was not consistent with that account. Prosecutors said the apartment was relatively tidy when they found it and that neighbors in the duplex heard no commotion.
The prosecution argued, and the jury ruled, that MacDonald killed his family in a rage, then tried to cover it up by wounding himself and fabricating a story based on the Charles Manson murders.
Stoeckley, who died in 1982, gave and recanted several confessions prior to the 1979 trial, then testified that she could not remember anything about the night of the murder. U.S. District Court Judge Franklin Dupree ruled in 1979 that statements she had made to seven associates about the murder were inadmissible because she was a "pathetic figure" addled by drug use.
In 1981, she gave a confession that included details MacDonald says she could not have known had she not been in the apartment. Murtagh says her confession is tainted by her exposure to the case and because the defense may have fed her information