United States v. MacDonald

Decision Date24 July 2014
Docket Number5:06–CV–00024–F.,Nos. 3:75–CR–00026–F,s. 3:75–CR–00026–F
Citation32 F.Supp.3d 608
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Jeffrey R. MacDONALD, Movant.

Brian M. Murtagh, U.S. Dept. of Justice–Criminal Div., Washington, DC, John S. Bruce, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Raleigh, NC, for United States of America.


JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.

This matter is back before the court following the opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald XI), 641 F.3d 596 (4th Cir.2011), vacating this court's decision1 to deny Movant Jeffrey MacDonald's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [DE–111]2 and remanding for further proceedings. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, receiving voluminous supplementary briefing, and examining the evidence as a whole, the court finds that MacDonald has failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty of the murder of his wife and two daughters. Alternatively, the court finds that MacDonald has failed to adequately establish the merits of any of his claims. Accordingly, for the reasons more fully set forth below, MacDonald's Motion to Vacate [DE–111] is DENIED.


Although this order presumes some familiarity with this long-running case, the court nevertheless finds it necessary to review some of the procedural background.

In the early morning hours of February 17, 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald's pregnant wife, Colette, and his two young daughters, Kristen and Kimberly, were murdered in their home. MacDonald, a physician and Captain in the Army Medical Corps, sustained non-life threatening injuries. From that date, MacDonald has consistently maintained that his Fort Bragg apartment was invaded by a band of drug-crazed hippies, including a woman with long blonde hair who wore a floppy hat and boots.

Law enforcement initially accepted MacDonald's story. However, as the investigation continued, physical evidence was discovered which cast doubt on MacDonald's version. In fact, investigators came to believe that MacDonald had killed his wife and daughters and staged the crime scene to cover up their murders.

The Army eventually charged MacDonald with the murders of his family. The Army's charges were ultimately dismissed on October 23, 1970, following a formal pre-court martial investigation and hearings conducted pursuant to Rule 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The investigating officer recommended that civil authorities investigate Helena Stoeckley as a possible suspect. Stoeckley was a Fayetteville, North Carolina, resident who was known to be a heavy drug user, and known to wear clothing similar to that described by MacDonald. Stoeckley had also, on numerous occasions, given conflicting statements as to whether she participated in the murders of MacDonald's family.

Just as the statute of limitations was about to expire, MacDonald was indicted by a grand jury for the Eastern District of North Carolina for the murders of his wife and his two daughters. The seven-week trial of MacDonald's case was held during July and August of 1979. The Honorable Franklin T. Dupree, Jr., United States District Judge, presided over the trial.3 The Government's case against MacDonald was presented by James L. Blackburn, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Brian Murtagh, an attorney with the Department of Justice. MacDonald's defense team included Wade M. Smith of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bernard Segal of the San Francisco, California bar.

The trial included testimony from both MacDonald and Stoeckley, the latter of which is detailed more fully later in this order. Stoeckley's testimony at trial was not what MacDonald or his defense team wanted or expected to hear. In short, she denied any involvement in the murders, and could not recall anything from shortly before midnight on February 16, 1970 until approximately 4:30 a.m. on February 17th due to the large amounts of drugs she had ingested. At the conclusion of the 29–day trial, it took the jury only six hours of deliberation to find MacDonald guilty of second degree murder of his wife and his daughter Kimberly and first-degree murder of his daughter Kristen. MacDonald was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

Thereafter, MacDonald filed a direct appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals raising a number of issues. See United States v. MacDonald, 632 F.2d 258 (4th Cir.1980). A divided panel reversed MacDonald's convictions, on the basis that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated. Id. at 267.4 The Supreme Court, however, reversed the Fourth Circuit and remanded for further proceedings. See United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 9–11, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 71 L.Ed.2d 696 (1982). On remand, the Fourth Circuit assessed MacDonald's remaining appellate arguments, found no error, and affirmed his convictions. United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald II), 688 F.2d 224 (4th Cir.1982). In the following years, MacDonald filed several motions in this court for post-conviction relief. The first two of these were denied. United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald III), 640 F.Supp. 286 (E.D.N.C.1985) (denying motions for a new trial and for a writ of habeas corpus), aff'd ( MacDonald IV), 779 F.2d 962 (4th Cir.1985) (affirming denial of motions for recusal, new trial, and habeas relief), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 813, 107 S.Ct. 63, 93 L.Ed.2d 22 (1986) ; United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald V), 778 F.Supp. 1342 (E.D.N.C.1991) (denying MacDonald's second motion for habeas relief), aff'd ( MacDonald VI), 966 F.2d 854 (4th Cir.1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1002, 113 S.Ct. 606, 121 L.Ed.2d 542 (1992).

In 1997, MacDonald filed a motion, pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to reopen the proceedings on his second post-conviction motion which was filed in 1990. MacDonald alleged fraud by the Government concerning the 1990 motion, and sought an order permitting new DNA testing of certain evidence that had been collected from the crime scene. This court denied the motion insofar as it sought to reopen the 1990 motion, and transferred the remaining matters to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for consideration as a petition for leave to file a successive § 2255 motion. See United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald VII), 979 F.Supp. 1057, 1069 (E.D.N.C.1997).

There were two appeals to the Fourth Circuit from this court's 1997 decision. In the first appeal, the Fourth Circuit denied MacDonald authorization to file a successive § 2255 motion, but remanded the matter to this court to oversee mitochondrial DNA testing. See In re MacDonald (MacDonald VII), No. 97–713 (4th Cir. Oct. 17, 1997) (unpublished). With regard to the second appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this court's denial of MacDonald's Rule 60(b) motion to reopen the proceedings. See United States v. MacDonald (MacDonald IX), No. 97–7297, 161 F.3d 4 (4th Cir. Sept. 8, 1998) (unpublished) (per curiam).

On remand, this court entered orders setting the parameters for DNA testing. It took nine years for the testing protocol to be agreed upon by the parties, the tests to be conducted, and the results submitted. The DNA report from the Department of Defense Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was issued on March 10, 2006.

Just before the DNA report was issued, MacDonald sought and received a pre-filing authorization from the Fourth Circuit, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b) and § 2255, permitting him to submit his proposed successive § 2255 motion to determine whether he meets the requirements for a successive § 2255 motion. MacDonald promptly filed his proposed successive § 2255 motion [DE–111] in this court on January 17, 2006.

This proposed successive § 2255 motion asserted what has become known as the “Britt claim.” Specifically, MacDonald sought to have his convictions vacated and set aside on the grounds of “newly discovered evidence,” the 2005 affidavit of former Deputy United States Marshal Jim Britt, the presentation of which MacDonald asserts would result in his acquittal. In brief summary, Britt averred that Stoeckley confessed to him in 1979 that she had been present in the MacDonald home on the night of the murders. Britt also declared that he was the only witness to an exchange between AUSA Blackburn and Stoeckley when, after Stoeckley made the same statement to Blackburn that she made to Britt, Blackburn threatened to indict her for first degree murder if she so testified. In this proposed motion, MacDonald contends that Britt's affidavit proves AUSA Blackburn's threat of prosecution intimidated Stoeckley into changing her intended trial testimony. MacDonald also asserts that Blackburn lied to Judge Dupree at trial the following day by representing that Stoeckley told the Government she had not been involved in the MacDonald murders, and could not remember where she had been on the night the crimes took place. MacDonald contends that Britt's withholding this evidence for almost 30 years must be attributed to the Government, and that its suppression of the facts revealed in the affidavit constitutes prosecutorial misconduct requiring that his conviction be vacated and set aside. In addition to the Britt affidavit, this motion incorporated numerous other exhibits, including the affidavits of three other witnesses swearing that Stoeckley's boyfriend at the time of the MacDonald murders, Greg Mitchell, had confessed to murdering the MacDonald family.

On March 22, 2006, after the results of the DNA testing became available, MacDonald filed a Motion to Add an Additional Predicate to His Previously Filed Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 [DE–122], or what has become known as the “DNA claim.” In this motion, MacDonald sought to add a new claim for relief to his proposed successive § 2255 motion, based on the newly discovered results of...

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