4th Circuit Denies Motion to Dismiss in Jeffrey MacDonald Appeal

by Jamison Koehler on May 6, 2010

Jeffrey MacDonald (c) 1970

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today denied the government’s motion to dismiss the defendant’s appeal in the case of United States v. Jeffrey MacDonald. As I discussed in greater detail in an earlier post, MacDonald has always maintained that he was a victim, not the perpetrator, of the murders. MacDonald’s appeal is based on grounds of actual innocence.

In addition to denying the motion to dismiss, the court expanded the range of issues that will be decided during the appeal. For example, it ordered both sides to submit further information/argument on the significance of court-authorized DNA test results.  According to a press release issued by MacDonald’s supporters, DNA tests of hairs found under the fingernail of MacDonald’s two-year-old daughter and under the body of his wife were “unsourced.”  The court will also examine potential misconduct by trial prosecutor James Blackburn, who was later disbarred and imprisoned for crimes of dishonesty.

I talked this afternoon with Kathryn MacDonald who said she was “heartened” and “thrilled” by the news:  “I couldn’t be more gratified that the 4th Circuit is recognizing the significance of the evidence as a whole, especially the DNA evidence.  It renews my faith that the truth matters.  I have never accepted that an innocent person stays in prison.”

13 Comments on “4th Circuit Denies Motion to Dismiss in Jeffrey MacDonald Appeal

  1. First briefs are due on June 15?

    That’s good news?

    I’ll report back on latest developments?

    I thought that the quote was a good way to end it.

  2. It is. The quote is great. I just want to know what you make of it, that’s all.

  3. Dear Mirriam: My quote was given in the context of what has been a 15 year struggle for me (minimized by 40 years endured by my husband, Jeff.) I have always believed that “the truth matters” and would “will out” for anyone truly innocent. A fair reading of the information regarding Jeff’s case would lead any reasonable factfinder (in my opinion) to the conclusion that he is factually innocent. To think, after 40 years since the crime, (and 30 years of wrongful incarceration) the 4th Circuit has made this extraordinary interim move in our favor is something we celebrate and embrace- thus my statement that “the truth does matter”. There are more innocent people currently incarcerated than anyone would like to think. They lanquish in cement cells because they do not have DNA to be tested, (despite approximately only 30% of overturned convictions occurring due to DNA alone) they cannot get help, or they have given up trying because of the “system”. In my husband’s case, we were fortunate to have exhibits available for DNA testing (although the district court denied DNA testing- the (4th) Circuit allowed for it) ….the DNA testing was then remanded back to the distict court (Judge Fox) who agreed with the gov’t that the testing should be limited (denying testing on the total of 50 exhibits held by the gov’t since 1970) and of those limited (15 or so) exhibits, 3 unsourced hairs were found in locations that were exculpatory. While some hairs were sourced to Jeff and his family, none of them were in inculpatory. The district court judge expressly refused to consider the DNA evidence (10 years elapsed for testing, then the judge did nothing for 3 years)…In 2008 he refused to rule on the DNA results obtainedin 2007..despite having been ordered to do so by the 4th Circuit……I know it sounds unbelievable, but it is the truth. We are so grateful that the 4th Circuit is pursuing this issue and the evidence as a whole.

  4. Mrs. MacDonald,

    I am familiar with your husband’s case and am, myself, a criminal defense attorney and know quite well that innocent people are languishing in our prison system. I am glad that the courts have stepped up and allowed the case to proceed and I hope justice prevails.

    Despite all of that, Mr. Koehler writes a pretty interesting and well read blog. While your quote is very true, I would like to know what his opinion, thoughts or analysis are on the topic of DNA, actual innocence, or any of the other topics here. So, please don’t think that I am belittling your experience or suffering. I just want Mr. Koehler to work on his endings, that’s all.

  5. Dear Mirriam:
    I tried to post a comment and my computer shut down….so I hope you don’t get a “half-message” from me. I was trying to say I totally understand and respect that you were looking to Mr. Koehler for his (educated) opinion….I am new to “blogging” and I think, did not understand that your question was not directed to the “audience at large”…please excuse me…it’s very good to hear that you understand the plight of the wrongly convicted..I think the 4th Circuit Court’s ruling yesterday made it clear that they understand as well (that is my hope). Thank you for educating me as to blogging etiquette, and Mr. Koehler, I apologize for unknowingly “overstepping” by responding to a question meant for you……

  6. Mrs. MacDonald,
    It was certainly no faux pas on your part to respond to what was an open question and my “and. . .” did leave a lot out there! I think the comments are meant to be a dialogue and debate as well, and I’m sure the readers were grateful to have you come back to this blog and post what your “and. . .” was. I just didn’t want you to think that my one word was meant as being some negative remark on your quote or your husband.

  7. I believe that Jeffrey MacDonald, guilty or innocent, should receive a fair and impartial trial. If, in fact, the Fourth Circuit determines that James Blackburn was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct, then I believe MacDonald is deserving of a new trial.

    That said, most of the “evidence as a whole” is res judicata. Most of it would not be to Jeffrey MacDonald’s advantage at any rate. Mr. Koehler, don’t we have to apply McCleskey and Schlup v. Delo here regarding successive habeas petitions?

    All of us have “unsourced” DNA in our homes. Kristen MacDonald was a little girl who loved the outdoors. She’d played outside that day and had visited with a neighbor in the evening. It’s not unusual that she would have “unsourced” DNA under her nails. In considering the “evidence as a whole” one must also consider the fact that the hair clutched in Colette MacDonald’s hand is a perfect DNA match to Jeffrey MacDonald.

    Also before the Fourth Circuit is the Britt affidavit. Why did Jimmy Britt wait thirty years to come forward? He says out of respect for the late Franklin T. Dupree (the presiding trial judge), however several things in the Britt affidavit don’t add up, and I’m sure the government will expand on these things in its brief.

    For one thing, Britt says Helena Stoeckley “confessed” (is there anyone Helena didn’t confess to?) to him after he picked her up at the Greenville, SC jail. Helena was never in Greenville. She was in the Pickens County Jail. Further, jail records indicate that Britt had no part in driving Helena from SC to Raleigh. As for the alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Helena spoke with Bernie Segal (MacDonald’s defense attorney) first, and her testimony was consistent with what she told Segal. Given this, I find it difficult to believe that Blackburn threatened her. Also, during her weekend in Raleigh, Helena went to Judge Dupree’s home and told him she was terrified of Segal, not Blackburn.

    The bottom line is that Helena was just not credible. She also “said” that she babysat the MacDonald children, identified them as boys at one point, said she tried to ride a hobby horse that was too close to a bookcase for anyone to get on, even tiny Kristen, and said she and MacDonald had been lovers. The woman was a poster child for why one should never indulge in drugs. She is just not credible, and given the fact, neither is Britt.

    I’m betting the Fourth Circuit will affirm Judge Fox’s rulings, but I think the best MacDonald can hope for is a remand back to Judge Fox.

    It’s interesting. I would be very disturbed by this, but I do believe he’s guilty, and I believe it beyond a reasonable doubt. Not beyond all doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

  8. <<>>

    Kathryn, please. I expect you to defend your husband, but one of Jeffrey MacDonald’s ancillary hairs was found clutched in Colette MacDonald’s left hand. This is the very hair that for thirty years or so you husband said “had” to belong to Colette’s killer. It belongs to your husband, and it certainly is inculpatory. So is much of the other evidence. Why were more than forty of Jeff’s pajama fibers found under Colette’s body? Why, if Jeff “came to” in the hallway, with his pajama top wrapped around his wrists, do the holes (not tears, but clean holes) in it match the wounds in Colette’s chest? Why were Kim and Kris found on their backs, with the covers pulled up and the lights out if Jeff tried CPR several times? Why if Jeff was fending off three to four intruders as he claims, with his pajama top wrapped around his wrists (his excuse for a healthy, strong Green Beret not being able to handle poorly equipped intruders) are the holes in that pajama top “clean” and not torn as they should be if Jeff had been moving, as he would have been if fending off intruders?

    I have a tiny smidgen of doubt that Jeff is guilty, but only a tiny smidgen. The inculpatory evidence against him is as overwhelming as a midsummer’s day is long.

  9. I always knew this day would come.

  10. I don’t think the court’s decision says anything regarding evidentiary findings – they are asking, “Should the evidence as a whole be considered?” and “Should Fox have ruled on the DNA?” That says nothing about what that evidence as a whole or the DNA results means for MacDonald.

    Also, Fox was not previously ordered to rule on the DNA – the 4th circuit ruled in ’97 that the DNA testing should be conducted, not that Fox should rule on it – his position was that the PFA did not cover the DNA. The 4th circuit is considering that since they ordered the testing, does that mean the results should be considered by Fox, or does MacDonald need to get a PFA for the results?

    Also, the DNA testing revealed no matches to the “killer hippies”. IMO, he really needed that to prevail on the DNA.

  11. What a grossly miscarriage of justice as Alan Dersowitz so aptly put it. There were so many contradictions and obviously falsified evidence by the prosecution as to the make the trial a blatant farce. The coverup afterward was unbelievable. Juries are not reliable and frequently only skim the surface of the evidence and base decisions on small incidences that have no relevance to guilt or innocence.

    There has been more than enough misconduct by the prosecution to warrant a new trial not to mention an abundance of evidence pointing to Jeffrey MacDonald’s innocence. If there is any justice at all, a new trial will be forthcoming!!!!

  12. This is great news, I just finished “Fatal Justice” which furthered my belief that Jeffrey McDonald is innocent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *