Attorney files memo in ‘Fatal Vision’ case

  • Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 1:42 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — An attorney for the former Fort Bragg surgeon serving three life sentences for killing his pregnant wife and two daughters more than 40 years ago filed a memo Monday in federal court, reiterating reasons to overturn that conviction.

Attorney Gordon Widenhouse said statements from Helena Stoeckley, now dead, that she was in Jeffrey MacDonald’s home, along with DNA evidence, are the main reasons to overturn the conviction.

“Based on the compelling evidence from Helena Stoeckley, given under circumstances the law deems trustworthy and reliable, that she was in the MacDonald house when the crimes occurred and that the men with her killed Dr. MacDonald’s family and seriously injured him, coupled with the newly revealed DNA evidence that soundly supports the defense theory of intruders coming in the house when the crimes occurred, considered in light of the evidence as a whole, no reasonable juror would have been convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,”’ Widenhouse wrote.

Widenhouse presented those reasons at September hearing in Wilmington, where the brutal slayings were reviewed again.

As the case has wound through criminal, military and civil courts, MacDonald, now 69 and not eligible for parole until 2020, has never wavered from his claim that he didn’t stab and beat his pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Kimberley and 2-year-old Kristen. He has maintained that he awoke on their sofa in their home at Fort Bragg in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, as three men and a woman attacked them.

The case became known as the “Fatal Vision” case, named after the book by Joe McGinniss about the murders.

At the hearing, MacDonald’s attorneys presented written statements and testimony in which Stoeckley repeatedly said she was with people who murdered the MacDonalds. However, at MacDonald’s trial in 1979, Stoeckley denied on the witness stand that she could remember what she was doing then or that she had any role in the murders.

Widenhouse said in September that the DNA evidence provides positive circumstantial evidence of a home invasion. Hair taken from under Kristen’s fingernail could have been left by her attacker as she fought for her life, he said.

Prosecutors countered that the newest claims of Stoeckley confessions — her statements had been raised before — are not credible, and that the DNA results show no evidence of home invasion. Results from other samples support MacDonald’s guilt, prosecutor Brian Murtagh said.

Murtagh said that the hair from under Kristen’s fingernail was not documented in any records until July 1970, five months after the murders and autopsy. The hair could have come from someone who near or handled her body before the autopsy or handled evidence later, he said, pointing out that evidence collection and maintenance standards were less stringent at that time.

Prosecutors have 60 days to respond to the defense memo.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at

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