United States v. MacDonald

Decision Date01 March 1985
Docket NumberNo. 75-26-CR-3.,75-26-CR-3.
Citation640 F. Supp. 286
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Jeffrey R. MacDONALD, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina


Brian M. Murtagh, Sr. Trial Atty., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sp. Pros. Section, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Wade M. Smith, Raleigh, N.C., Brian O'Neill, Santa Monica, Cal., for defendant.


DUPREE, Senior District Judge.

Serving three consecutive life sentences imposed by the court following his conviction by a jury in 1979 of three counts of murder, the defendant, Jeffrey R. MacDonald, filed post-trial motions on April 5, 1984 seeking either to have his convictions set aside or a new trial on the charges. The motions, one for a new trial under Rule 33, F.R.Crim.P., and two for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, came on for an evidentiary hearing on September 19-20, 1984.1 The government vigorously contested the motions, filing seven volumes of affidavits in response. Final arguments on the motions having been heard on January 14, 1985, the court now enters its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The facts of the case have been previously reported, see, e.g., United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 3-6, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 1499-1501, 71 L.Ed.2d 696 (1982); United States v. MacDonald, 531 F.2d 196, 200-02 (4th Cir.1976), rev'd, 435 U.S. 850, 98 S.Ct. 1547, 56 L.Ed.2d 18 (1978), but for purposes of this decision they must be retold. In the early morning of February 17, 1970, MacDonald's pregnant wife, Colette, and his two daughters, Kristen and Kimberly, two and five years old, were clubbed and stabbed to death in their apartment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When military police arrived at the crime scene following a telephone call from MacDonald, they found MacDonald, a physician and Captain in the Army Medical Corps, unconscious and lying partially across his wife's body in the master bedroom. The bodies of Kristen and Kimberly MacDonald were found in their bedrooms. Although MacDonald had sustained a number of stab wounds, one of which partially collapsed a lung, he was treated at the Womack Army Hospital Emergency Room and released after a brief hospitalization.

On the morning and afternoon of the murders and in subsequent interviews, MacDonald told investigators that the murders had been committed by four drug-crazed intruders. He said that upon retiring at approximately 2:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., he found that his youngest daughter, Kristen, had crawled into bed with his wife and had wet his side of the bed. He picked her up and returned her to her own room and then went into the living room to lay down on the sofa where he fell asleep. Sometime later, he was awakened by his wife and oldest daughter's screams and looked up to see a woman with blonde hair wearing a floppy hat, boots and a short skirt carrying a lighted candle and chanting "acid is groovy; kill the pigs." He said that three men, two white and one black, standing near the couch then attacked him, pulling or tearing his pajama top over his head which he then used to ward off their blows. The three attackers continued to club and stab him until he lost consciousness. When he awoke on the hall steps to the living room, MacDonald stated that he got up and went to the master bedroom where he found his wife dead. He said that he pulled a Geneva Forge knife out of her body and covered her with his pajama top and a bathmat. He then went to his children's rooms and unsuccessfully tried to revive them. After going to the bathroom to wash himself and calling the military police, he again lost consciousness.

The military police, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the FBI and the Fayetteville, North Carolina Police Department initially accepted MacDonald's account of the murders and immediately began searching for four people fitting his descriptions. At the same time, they continued to examine the crime scene and began to discover evidence which cast doubt on MacDonald's story. Although MacDonald had said that his pajama top was torn during his struggle with the three assailants in the living room, no fibers from the pajama top were found in that room. Fibers were found, however, inside and outside the body outline of Colette MacDonald in the master bedroom and in the rooms of Kristen and Kimberly MacDonald. A piece of a plastic surgeon's glove, stained with Colette's MacDonald's blood, was found inside a sheet in a pile of bedding at the foot of the master bed. Moreover, although there were numerous unidentified fingerprints in the apartment, no direct evidence of the alleged intruders was found to support MacDonald's version as to what happened on the night of the murders. From this and similar evidence, investigators became convinced that MacDonald had killed his family and staged the crime scene to cover up the murders.

The Army eventually charged MacDonald with the murders and a formal pre-court martial investigation was conducted and hearings held pursuant to Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At the close of the Article 32 proceedings, the investigating officer recommended that all charges against MacDonald be dismissed and that civilian authorities investigate Helena Stoeckley, a young woman resembling MacDonald's description of the female assailant, as a possible suspect.

MacDonald was subsequently discharged from the Army but investigation of the case continued into the early 1970's. Over six hundred witnesses were interviewed and a thirteen-volume report, twice supplemented, was prepared by the CID. Based upon this report and other evidence gathered by civilian and military authorities and testimony by witnesses, one of which was MacDonald, on January 24, 1975 the grand jury indicted MacDonald for the murder of his family. A series of pre-trial motions and interlocutory appeals delayed trial of the case until July of 1979.

During the seven-week trial of the case, the government presented extensive physical and circumstantial evidence supported by expert and lay testimony. Physical evidence ranging from the amounts of MacDonald's pajama top fibers found in various rooms in the MacDonald residence to the pattern of blood spatterings on the victims and in the rooms of the apartment was offered.2 The government also pointed to the absence of evidence in the apartment linking Helena Stoeckley or anyone else to the crimes, apparent contradictions in MacDonald's numerous accounts of what transpired that morning, and the marital difficulties MacDonald and his wife were allegedly having prior to February 17, 1970.

MacDonald's defense consisted primarily of his own testimony, character witnesses, and impeachment of the integrity of the crime scene and evidence offered by the prosecution. Although Helena Stoeckley was located during the trial and offered as an exculpatory witness, she testified before the jury that she was not involved in the murders but that because of her drug-crazed condition and bizarre behavior following the murders, she at least had come to wonder whether she was in fact involved. The jury apparently believed that she was not, for after six hours of deliberation MacDonald was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. MacDonald's convictions were affirmed on appeal by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court denied his application for a writ of certiorari. United States v. MacDonald, 688 F.2d 224 (4th Cir.1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1103, 103 S.Ct. 726, 74 L.Ed.2d 951 (1983). After the Supreme Court denied certiorari, MacDonald retained private investigators to interview witnesses, primarily Helena Stoeckley, and review documents in an attempt to either have his convictions set aside or be granted a new trial. This effort culminated in the present motions.

The government seeks to have all of the motions dismissed at the outset claiming that MacDonald knew of the evidence underlying the motions either before or shortly after trial and that he should have raised the issues at trial or on appeal of his convictions. Since he did not, the government argues, he is now procedurally defaulted from pursuing the motions unless he is able to demonstrate cause and actual prejudice for failing to have raised the issues earlier.

It is well settled that "to obtain collateral relief based on trial errors not objected to at trial nor argued on appeal, a convicted defendant must show both (1) `cause' excusing his double procedural default, and (2) `actual prejudice' resulting from the errors of which he complains." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 167-68, 102 S.Ct. 1584, 1594-95, 71 L.Ed.2d 816 (1982); see Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 87, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 2506, 53 L.Ed.2d 594 (1977); Francis v. Henderson, 425 U.S. 536, 542, 96 S.Ct. 1708, 1711, 48 L.Ed.2d 149 (1976). The reason behind the "cause and actual prejudice" rule lies in the intent of Congress when it enacted 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to simplify "the procedure for making a collateral attack on a final judgment entered in a federal criminal case, but ... not to ... modify the basic distinction between direct review and collateral review." Frady, 456 U.S. at 165, 102 S.Ct. at 1593. Once a criminal defendant has been convicted and his chance to appeal has been waived or exhausted, "the public is entitled to presume he stands fairly and finally convicted...." Id.

All three of MacDonald's motions have at their foundation evidence which he alleges was not discovered until after trial. Part of the newly discovered evidence, he concedes, was known shortly after trial when his convictions were pending on appeal, but the evidence was so undeveloped that it would have been of little use to him had he requested that the appellate courts remand the case to this court for consideration of the new evidence. See Rule 33, F.R. Cr...

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8 cases
  • United States v. MacDonald
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 24, 2014
    ...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.198......
  • United States v. Macdonald, 15-7136
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • December 21, 2018
    ...§ 2255 and a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. The district court denied relief, see United States v. MacDonald , 640 F.Supp. 286 (E.D.N.C. 1985), and we affirmed, see United States v. MacDonald , 779 F.2d 962 (4th Cir. 1985). Thereafter, in 1990, MacDonald filed ......
  • U.S. v. Macdonald
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • April 19, 2011
    ...MacDonald was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder.United States v. MacDonald, 640 F.Supp. 286, 289–90 (E.D.N.C.1985). Following his convictions by the jury in 1979, the trial court sentenced MacDonald to three consecutive life terms of imp......
  • US v. MacDonald
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 8, 1991
    ...(denying government's motion for forfeiture of proceeds from book and television program concerning the case); United States v. MacDonald, 640 F.Supp. 286 (E.D.N.C.1985) (denying motions for a new trial and for a writ of habeas corpus), aff'd, 779 F.2d 962 (4th Cir.1985) (affirming denial o......
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