U.S. v. MacDonald

Decision Date23 January 1976
Docket Number75--1871,Nos. 75--1870,s. 75--1870
Citation531 F.2d 196
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Jeffrey R. MacDONALD, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Bernard L. Segal, San Francisco, Cal. (Orrin Leigh Grover, III, San Francisco, Cal., Michael J. Malley Washington, D.C., Robert H. Hood, III, Research Triangle Park, N.C., Kenneth A. Letzler, and Jon Van Dyke, San Francisco, Cal., on brief), for appellant.

Brian M. Murtagh, Atty., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C. (Thomas P. McNamara, U.S. Atty., Raleigh, N.C., Victor C. Woerheide, Atty., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., and James T. Stroud, Jr., Asst. U.S. Atty., Raleigh, N.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before CRAVEN, BUTZNER and RUSSELL, Circuit Judges.

BUTZNER, Circuit Judge:

Jeffrey Robert MacDonald appeals from the denial of several motions relating to his prosecution for the 1970 deaths of his wife and two daughters. 1 We conclude that delay of four and one-half years, dating from the Army's accusation and detention of MacDonald in May 1970 to his indictment in January 1975, even when allowances are made for several intervals, violates the right to a speedy trial guaranteed by the sixth amendment. 2 We therefore reverse and order dismissal with prejudice.


We stayed MacDonald's trial and allowed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to our decision in United States v. Lansdown, 460 F.2d 164, 170--71 (4th Cir. 1972). 3 There, we held that 28 U.S.C. § 1291 did not bar an interlocutory appeal in criminal cases where important rights, collateral to the main action, would be irreparably lost unless considered before trial. But see United States v. Bailey, 512 F.2d 833 (5th Cir. 1975). In Lansdown the appeal was from an order rejecting a plea of double jeopardy. We held that post-trial consideration of the issue could provide only inadequate relief because the double jeopardy prohibition was intended to prevent the hardship of undergoing a second trial. See Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187, 78 S.Ct. 221, 2 L.Ed.2d 199 (1957). The denial of MacDonald's plea of double jeopardy, like Lansdown's, is a proper subject for interlocutory review, but for reasons discussed in Part IV, we believe it preferable not to decide this issue. Instead, we have rested our decision on the sixth amendment's provision for a speedy trial.

Pendent to the double jeopardy claim, and closely related to it, is MacDonald's affirmative defense of denial of a speedy trial. This sixth amendment claim is also collateral and can be decided without considering the merits of the charges against MacDonald. , the guarantee of a speedy trial is a fundamental constitutional right. Braden v. Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484, 489--90, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 443 (1973); Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 223--25, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1 (1967); Kane v. Virginia, 419 F.2d 1369, 1371--73 (4th Cir. 1970). Not every speedy trial claim, however, merits an interlocutory appeal. Generally, this defense should be reviewed after final judgment. It is the extraordinary nature of MacDonald's case that persuaded us to allow an interlocutory appeal.

The hearing conducted by the Army in 1970 lasted for more than a month, and the government estimates that the trial would take six to eight weeks. The prosecution's case is wholly circumstantial and rests on a detailed, hypothetical reconstruction of the crime. Witnesses, who have scattered across the country in the last five years, must be interviewed and assembled at great expense to both the government and the defense.

MacDonald's collateral defenses of double jeopardy and denial of a speedy trial are not fanciful. Never before, as we mention in Part IV has a soldier been prosecuted by civilian authorities after being exonerated by his commanding officer following an Article 32 hearing; and a delay of five years between the initiation of prosecution and trial is extraordinary. Had we denied the interlocutory appeal and subsequently sustained either of MacDonald's collateral defenses, all of the burdens on the court and the parties of a prolonged, expensive trial would be for naught. These factors, which we regard as unique, were the basis for allowing this appeal.


In the early morning of February 17, 1970, military police received a call for help from Captain MacDonald, a physician stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Upon arriving at the family's quarters, the police found Mrs. MacDonald and the couple's two daughters clubbed and stabbed to death. MacDonald told the police that screams of his wife and six-year-old daughter awoke him from the couch in the living room. He said that during a short struggle four assailants stabbed him and knocked him unconscious. Upon regaining his senses, he attempted to revive his family and telephoned for help.

The military police, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the F.B.I., and the Fayetteville, North Carolina, police department immediately began an investigation of the crime. Examination disclosed that each member of the MacDonald family had a different blood type. The location of the victims' blood in the apartment and the presence of one daughter's blood on MacDonald's glasses cast doubt on MacDonald's account. Similarly, the presence of stray fibers from his pajama top in the master bedroom did not correspond with MacDonald's statement that it was ripped in a struggle in the living room. Torn and bloody pieces of surgical gloves, apparently of a type kept by MacDonald, were found near the victims. Although there were numerous unidentified fingerprints in the apartment, no direct evidence of the alleged intruders was found. From these and other circumstances, investigators theorized that MacDonald had killed his family and staged the murder scene to cover up his crime.

On April 6, 1970, the CID questioned MacDonald and informed him that he was under suspicion. That same day he was relieved of his medical duties and restricted to quarters by his commanding officer. On May 1, 1970, the Army formally charged him with the murders.

Major General Edward M. Flanagan, Jr., Commanding General of the unit to which MacDonald was assigned, appointed Colonel Warren V. Rock to investigate the charges, with the assistance of a legal officer, in accordance with Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Colonel Rock's final report described the manner in which the Article 32 proceedings were conducted:

'In view of the fact that both government and defense were represented by counsel The hearing was conducted in generally the same format as a trial. Government presented its evidence and rested, defense did likewise and finally the Article 32 Officer called for witnesses and evidence. In all instances opposing counsel was given the full right to cross examination. It was necessary to give considerable latitude to counsel and permit the introduction of some hearsaytype evidence for both sides. The legal advisor sat next to the Investigating Officer throughout the hearing and his sole function was to assist him in making proper legal rulings on all questions that arose.'

The government called 27 witnesses and MacDonald 29, including many character witnesses. He himself testified and was subjected to extensive cross-examination.

At the conclusion of the Article 32 proceedings, Colonel Rock filed an exhaustive report in which he recommended that '(a)ll charges and specifications against Captain Jeffrey R. MacDonald be dismissed because the matters set forth in all charges and specifications are not true. . . .' He also recommended that the civilian authorities investigate a named suspect. On review of Colonel Rock's report, General Flanagan dismissed the charges on October 23, 1970, and reported this to the Commanding General of Fort Bragg, who took no further action. Shortly afterward, the Army released MacDonald from quarters and, underscoring the finality of the military proceedings it granted him an honorable discharge for reasons of hardship in December 1970. 4

Following MacDonald's discharge, the Department of Justice asked the CID to continue its investigation. The CID complied, conducting 699 interviews. At the request of the department, it sent the weapons and the victims' clothing to the F.B.I. laboratory in July 1971 and in August furnished the Treasury Department's laboratory other items for analysis. The CID completed its field investigation in December 1971, and in June 1972 it transmitted to the Justice Department a 13-volume report recommending prosecution. A number of government attorneys studied the report and asked for further investigations. The CID filed two supplemental reports, but upon receiving a request for additional investigation, it suggested convening a grand jury before it expended any more effort. Finally, in August 1974 the government started presenting the case to a grand jury. Concurrently, the F.B.I. examined several items from the MacDonald house, and it exhumed the bodies of Mrs. MacDonald and the children to obtain hair samples.

Shortly after his discharge, MacDonald moved to California where he resumed the practice of medicine. In 1971 he was again interviewed by the CID. Beginning in January 1972 and continuing through January 1974, MacDonald, first in person and then through letters by his attorneys, requested the government to complete its investigation. He repeatedly offered to submit to an interview by the government attorneys in charge of the case. 5 The attorneys, however, declined to question him and to advise when their investigation would be completed. The correspondence appears to have come to an end in January 1974, leaving MacDonald in suspense. 6 MacDonald was subsequently subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. He waived his right to remain silent and testified on two occasions for a total of more than five days.

The grand jury indicted...

To continue reading

Request your trial
29 cases
  • Com. v. Bolden
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 28 Abril 1977
    ...1291 (1966) and may be appealed prior to judgment of sentence. United States v. Alessi, 536 F.2d 978 (2d Cir. 1976); United States v. MacDonald, 531 F.2d 196 (4th Cir. 1976) (dictum), petition for cert. filed 45 U.S.L.W. 3005 (U.S., June 29, 1976) (No. 75--1892); United States v. Barket, 53......
  • Stewart v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 22 Mayo 1978
    ...States v. MacDonald, which had been decided on 23 January 1976 by the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, and reported in 531 F.2d 196. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on 9 January 1978, and we thought that it was advisable to await the decision before determining t......
  • People v. Missouri
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • 25 Julio 1980
    ...is a factor to be considered in considering the prejudice to an accused's defense because of a delay in the trial. United States v. MacDonald, 531 F.2d 196, 208 (CA 4, 1976), rev'd on other grounds 435 U.S. 850, 98 S.Ct. 1547, 56 L.Ed.2d 18 (1978). However, nothing besides counsel's asserti......
  • Beckwith v. State, 91-IA-1207
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • 16 Diciembre 1992
    ...jurisdiction." United States v. MacDonald, 435 U.S. 850, 857, n. 6, 98 S.Ct. 1547, 1551 n. 6, 56 L.Ed.2d 18 (1978), rev'g 531 F.2d 196 (4th Cir.1976); United States v. Blackwell, 900 F.2d 742, 746 (4th We therefore address Beckwith's double jeopardy claim solely, without consideration A def......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT