U.S. v. MacDonald, 85-6208

Decision Date17 December 1985
Docket NumberNo. 85-6208,85-6208
Citation779 F.2d 962
Parties19 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1151 UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Jeffrey R. MacDONALD, Appellant, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Amicus Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Brian O'Neill (Myrna K. Greenberg, Santa Monica, Cal., on brief), for appellant.

Brian M. Murtagh, Sp. Asst. U.S. Atty., John F. De Pue, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., (Samuel T. Currin, U.S. Atty., Raleigh, N.C., on brief) for appellee.

(Ephraim Margolin, Chairman, Amicus Curiae Committee, Natl. Ass'n of Criminal Defense Lawyers, San Francisco, Cal., on brief), for amicus curiae.

Before RUSSELL and MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judges, and HAYNSWORTH, Senior Circuit Judge.

HAYNSWORTH, Senior Circuit Judge:

Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of the gruesome murder of his wife and two young daughters, and his convictions were affirmed on appeal. United States v. MacDonald, 688 F.2d 224 (4th Cir.1982). Subsequently he filed two motions for relief under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2255, one motion for a new trial under Rule 33 F.R.Cr.P., and a fourth motion under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 455 to have the trial judge recuse himself. All four motions were denied.

We find no merit in this appeal, and affirm.


The attempt to disqualify the trial judge was based upon the judge's relationship with Jimmy Proctor, who, at the time of the judge's appointment, was an assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina and married to the judge's daughter. In apparent recognition that he should not be practicing in his father-in-law's courtroom, Proctor resigned as assistant United States Attorney in February 1971, approximately two months after the judge's appointment. At that time the MacDonald case was in the investigative stage, and Proctor had made statements indicating a belief that MacDonald should be indicted and prosecuted.

Proctor was divorced from the trial judge's daughter on July 27, 1972.

MacDonald was not indicted until January 1975, and trial before Judge Dupree did not commence until July 1979, more than eight years after Proctor's resignation as assistant United States Attorney, and almost seven years after his divorce from the trial judge's daughter.

These circumstances present no basis for a disqualification or recusal. By the time the trial judge was called upon to make any discretionary ruling in the case, Proctor had long since ceased to be a United States Attorney and ceased to be the judge's son-in-law. The earlier relationship would have disqualified either the judge or the son-in-law, and they treated it as disqualifying the son-in-law. Termination of both branches of the disqualifying relationship, however, left no vestige of the taint requiring the trial judge to disqualify himself at the time of trial in 1979 or at the time the post conviction motions came on for a hearing in 1984. S.J. Groves & Sons Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 581 F.2d 1241 (7th Cir.1978).


It is contended that MacDonald is entitled to a new trial because of evidence discovered after his conviction. This evidence consists primarily of post trial statements by Helena Stoeckley, and one each by two of her former associate drug addicts.

MacDonald's version of the events that fatal night was that his home was invaded by three men and a woman, all drunk on drugs. It was they who had attacked him and had viciously murdered his wife and children. The female invader he described as a blonde woman wearing a floppy hat and brown boots coming almost up to her knees. Helena Stoeckley had brown hair, but she sometimes wore a blonde wig, a floppy hat and high brown boots. After hearing of Dr. MacDonald's accusations, Helena Stoeckley thought that she might have been the female he described. She disposed of the wig, the hat and the boots.

Helena Stoeckley was also heavily addicted to drugs. She was a witness at the trial where she testified that she was so heavily intoxicated with drugs in the early morning hours of the night in question that she had no idea of what she had done or where she had been. Before trial, however, she had made statements to the effect that she had been, or might have been, in the MacDonald home. The statements contained internal suggestions that they were the product of fantasy. She stated, for instance, that she held a lighted candle for illumination but "it was not dripping wax; it was dripping blood."

At the trial, the defense sought to introduce evidence of two earlier hearsay statements. They were excluded as being untrustworthy, and this court affirmed the exercise by the trial judge of his discretion in excluding them for lack of trustworthiness. United States v. MacDonald, 688 F.2d at 230-34.

Helena Stoeckley has since died, apparently as the result of drug abuse. After the trial and during her lifetime, however, she continued to make conflicting statements. Sometimes she remembered nothing about what happened that night, while, apparently depending upon who questioned her, she sometimes remembered in some gory detail being with the slayers of the MacDonald mother and children. The details she gave, however, contain many inconsistencies with MacDonald's version of what occurred and with the circumstantial evidence derived from the scene.

Evidence was proffered that Greg Mitchell, a former associate of Helena Stoeckley, had explained to friends an apparent state of depression by saying that he had been involved in some murders.

Cathy Perry Williams, a former associate of Stoeckley's and a schizophrenic, allegedly confessed that she was one of the invading murderers. She claimed to have recalled evidence of that night in some detail, but the detail varied widely from the known physical facts, from Dr. MacDonald's version of what transpired, and from Helena Stoeckley's numerous confessions. Notably, the Williams statement would have had two women among four intruders; she had gone upstairs to get to the bedrooms, and the two children were boys.

To obtain a new trial on the basis of after discovered evidence, that evidence must be admissible in a new trial. There is substantial doubt that these hearsay statements would be admissible since corroborating circumstances do not clearly indicate their trustworthiness. See F.R.E. 804(b)(3); United States v. Carvalho, 742 F.2d 146 (4th Cir.1984). However, we need go no further than to observe that the district judge found that this melange of hearsay evidence would not produce a different result in a new trial. United States v. Lott, 751 F.2d 717 (4th Cir.1985). That assessment was for the district judge. There is an evidentiary basis for the finding, and there are no extraordinary circumstances that might warrant our intervention. See United States v. Carmichael, 726 F.2d 158 (4th Cir.1984).

If these hearsay statements had been before the jury, it is most unlikely that the jury would have given them any credence. The circumstantial evidence made a strong case against MacDonald and demonstrated that his story was a fabrication entirely or in substantial part. Nevertheless, when his story first came out, Helena Stoeckley had no reason to doubt his truthfulness. It is clear that she thought his description of the blonde woman with the floppy hat and brown boots fit her, and a pitiable person whose memory had been completely blocked by drugs is bound to be highly suggestible. Since she could not remember where she had been or what she had been doing, MacDonald's description of the blonde woman necessarily would cause her to wonder whether she had been in the MacDonald residence and to fantasize participation in a crime as horrible as it was senseless. And, if Helena Stoeckley had been one of four intruders, some of her friends whose memories were similarly blocked by drugs might well have had similar fantasies.

Perhaps it would have been better if evidence of Stoeckley's pretrial statements had been received, as Judge Murnaghan observed in his concurring opinion, 688 F.2d at 234-36, but the district judge could appropriately find that the post trial statements were all lacking in trustworthiness and that they did not meet the materiality requirement for a new trial.



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