Published: 05:53 AM, Sat Jul 17, 2010
Lawyers say evidence backs up MacDonald conviction> <
RelatedBy Drew Brooks
Lawyers for the U.S. government argued in court filings Thursday that evidence that Jeffrey MacDonald claims exonerates him actually reinforces his 1979 conviction in three murders.
MacDonald, a former Army surgeon at Fort Bragg, is serving three life sentences for killing his pregnant wife and their 5-year-old and 2-year-old daughters in 1970.
Lawyers for MacDonald are trying to convince a federal appeals judge of his innocence. But the government opposes any move to grant MacDonald a new trial.
The latest court filings by U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding's office were in response to a supplemental brief filed by MacDonald's lawyers last month.
The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals requested supplemental briefs when it expanded the original scope of MacDonald's appeal this year.
MacDonald's lawyers have argued that their client should receive a new trial while focusing on two pieces of evidence that were not available at the 1979 proceedings.
The first is that a retired U.S. marshal said that a prosecutor coerced and threatened a witness to make her lie in the original case. The marshal has since died.
The second piece of new evidence is DNA testing ordered in 1997 that MacDonald's lawyers say absolves him because it shows he was not the source of hairs found at the murder scene, including those taken from under the fingernails of one of his daughters.
Lawyers reject claims
Lawyers for the government reject the first claim because they say the witness, who also has since died, was unreliable, and that the U.S. marshal's recollections showed inconsistencies with what was recorded in the trial record.
The DNA evidence, they said, also has no value.
"The determination, via DNA testing, that three hairs did not match any other sample tested and therefore had no known source has no probative value in this case .," the government said in its brief. "Nor is there substance to MacDonald's claim that any of the three unsourced hairs was bloody and/or forcibly removed. That assertion is based upon a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the forensic evidence."
The lawyers claim that MacDonald has misrepresented when, where and by whom some evidence was collected and fails to mention that the hairs were found with numerous threads from his pajama top, with his own hair and on a bedspread contaminated with dog hair.
The government also argues that some of the evidence MacDonald cites was collected in March 1970, almost a month after the removal of the victims' bodies.
Instead of exonerating him, the government argues that the forensic evidence not available at trial would only serve to further convince a jury of his guilt.
"MacDonald's DNA claim does not call into question any forensic evidence introduced by the government at trial," the government argues. "Moreover, the DNA test results do not in any way impugn the compelling forensic evidence that demonstrated the falsity of MacDonald's version of events on the night of the murders and showed that he was the only possible criminal agent."
The government says the evidence of pajama threads and MacDonald's footprint in his wife's blood can't be explained by the actions of intruders.
"The jury understood that nobody but MacDonald could have stabbed his wife through his pajama top because, according to his own account of the event, he placed the pajama top on his wife's chest after the alleged intruders had departed," the government said.
MacDonald has always maintained his innocence and has appealed his convictions several times. He has repeatedly said a group of hippies killed his family in their home on Fort Bragg.
He has been in federal prison since 1982, after an appeal he won was overturned. MacDonald, who was 26 when his family died, is now 66.
MacDonald's latest appeal has been in the appellate court since shortly after its dismissal by a lower court in 2008.
Lawyers for the government argue that MacDonald's many attempts at a new trial should put increased scrutiny on this and any other appeals.
MacDonald's lawyers have asked to be allowed to argue their case before the court later this year. Lawyers on both sides last argued their cases in a federal courtroom in March.
The MacDonald case was the basis for a best-selling book and television miniseries, "Fatal Vision."
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at email@example.com