US v. MacDonald

Decision Date08 July 1991
Docket Number90-104-CIV-3-D.,No. 75-26-CR-3,75-26-CR-3
Citation778 F. Supp. 1342
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Jeffrey R. MacDONALD, Defendant.

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Brian Murtagh, Sp. Asst. U.S. Atty., Eric Evenson, Asst. U.S. Atty., Raleigh, N.C., John F. Depue, Crim. Div., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for U.S.

Harvey Silverglate, Philip Cormier, Boston, Mass., Norman Smith, local counsel, Greensboro, N.C., for Jeffrey R. MacDonald.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

DUPREE, District Judge.

Jeffrey R. MacDonald, who is serving three consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife and two children, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on October 19, 1990 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to vacate his conviction on the grounds that the prosecution failed to disclose prior statements of witnesses at trial, withheld laboratory notes written by government agents which would have aided the defense, and exploited the suppression of the prior statements and lab notes by knowingly presenting a false and perjurious picture of the evidence and underlying facts. The government has responded that it fully complied with its duty to disclose exculpatory evidence and prior statements and that in any case, the allegedly suppressed evidence would not have altered the jury's verdict. The government further argues that MacDonald should be barred from raising these claims at this time since the information upon which the instant petition is based was in MacDonald's possession in 1984 when a previous petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed. The court has allowed numerous extensions of time in which to file pleadings and has waived the normal page limitations so that both sides could adequately present their respective positions. Having considered the voluminous pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits, and the arguments of counsel at a hearing on June 26, 1991, the court finds for the reasons which follow that MacDonald's petition must be denied.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In the court's twenty years on the bench, no other case has been the subject of more public and judicial scrutiny than this one. Virtually every aspect of the case has been detailed in eleven reported judicial opinions, a best-selling book, a television drama, various documentaries, and countless articles and news reports. Although more than twenty years have passed since the murders, interest in the case remains seemingly unabated, as evidenced by the fact that even minor scheduling orders prompt calls to the court from local and national press organizations.

The facts of the case and prior proceedings have been previously reported and will not be fully repeated here. See United States v. MacDonald, 531 F.2d 196 (4th Cir.1976) (pre-trial ruling that four-year delay between dismissal of military charges and subsequent federal indictment violated constitutional right to speedy trial), rev'd, 435 U.S. 850, 98 S.Ct. 1547, 56 L.Ed.2d 18 (1978) (holding that defendant may not appeal order denying motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds before trial); United States v. MacDonald, 585 F.2d 1211 (4th Cir.1978) (Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy does not bar federal prosecution following Article 32 hearing resulting in dismissal of army charges), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 961, 99 S.Ct. 1504, 59 L.Ed.2d 774 (1979); United States v. MacDonald, 485 F.Supp. 1087 (E.D.N.C.1979) (denying post-conviction bail pending appeal); United States v. MacDonald, 632 F.2d 258 (4th Cir.1980) (reversing conviction on speedy trial grounds), reh'g en banc denied, 635 F.2d 1115 (4th Cir.1980) (over published dissents of five judges), rev'd, 456 U.S. 1, 102 S.Ct. 1497, 71 L.Ed.2d 696 (1982) (finding no speedy trial violation); United States v. MacDonald, 688 F.2d 224 (4th Cir.1982) (rejecting due process and evidentiary challenges to conviction), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1103, 103 S.Ct. 726, 74 L.Ed.2d 951 (1983); United States v. MacDonald, 607 F.Supp. 1183 (E.D.N.C.1985) (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 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). Nevertheless, some background review is necessary for a complete understanding of the pending claims.

In the early morning of February 17, 1970, MacDonald's pregnant wife, Colette, and his two daughters, two-year-old Kristen and five-year-old Kimberly, were clubbed and stabbed to death in their apartment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina where MacDonald was stationed as an Army Medical Corps captain. Military police arrived at the scene and found MacDonald lying unconscious across Colette's body in the master bedroom. The bodies of Kristen and Kimberly were found in their bedrooms. MacDonald suffered multiple stab wounds, most superficial, but one which partially collapsed a lung, and was treated and released after a brief hospitalization.

MacDonald maintained in initial and subsequent interviews that the murders had been committed by a group of drug-crazed intruders. He stated that after falling asleep on the couch in the living room, he had been awakened by the screams of Colette and Kimberly and had seen a woman with blond hair wearing a floppy hat, boots and a short skirt carrying a flickering light and chanting "acid is groovy; kill the pigs." He said that three men standing near the couch attacked him, pulling and tearing off his pajama top which he then used to ward off their blows, and that the attackers continued to club and stab him until he lost consciousness. According to MacDonald, he awoke on the hall steps to the living room, found his wife's body in the master bedroom, covered her with his pajama top, and then found the children's bodies in their bedrooms. He called the military police for assistance, but had lost consciousness by the time they arrived.

Investigators initially accepted MacDonald's account of the murders and immediately began searching for four people fitting his descriptions of the alleged intruders. Considerable suspicion was focused upon Helena Stoeckley, a nineteen-year-old Fayetteville resident who resembled MacDonald's description of the female assailant. Stoeckley had been seen returning to her apartment at 4:30 on the morning following the killings in the company of men also generally fitting the descriptions given by MacDonald. Within days of the crime, Stoeckley, an acknowledged heavy drug user, began telling people that she was involved in the murders or that she had been in the MacDonald apartment with friends who had committed the murders. She admitted to owning and frequently wearing a blond wig and a pair of white boots and said that she destroyed them within a few days after the crime because they might connect her with the MacDonald murders. At other times, however, Stoeckley denied any knowledge of the murders, saying that she had taken so many drugs on the night in question that she could not remember anything.

As the military police, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Fayetteville police department examined the crime scene, they began to discover physical evidence which cast doubt on MacDonald's story and caused them to view him as a suspect. For example, threads from MacDonald's blue pajama top, supposedly torn during a struggle in the living room, were found in large numbers in the master bedroom and in the children's bedrooms, but not in the living room. A piece of a plastic surgeon's glove, with which the word "pig" appeared to have been written in Colette's blood on the headboard in the master bedroom, was found to match gloves found under a sink in the MacDonald apartment. Moreover, investigators felt that the relative lack of damage to the apartment and the absence of direct physical evidence they could link to intruders was inconsistent with MacDonald's version of events. From this and similar evidence, they became convinced that MacDonald had killed his family and staged the crime scene to cover up the murders.

The Army formally charged MacDonald with the three murders on May 1, 1970, but charges were dropped on October 23, 1970 on the recommendation of the investigating officer following hearings held pursuant to Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and MacDonald was granted a discharge from the Army. The investigation into the murders continued over the next several years, however, and MacDonald was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury on January 24, 1975. A series of pretrial motions and interlocutory appeals delayed commencement of the trial until July 1979.

At the trial, which lasted seven weeks, the government called twenty-eight expert and lay witnesses and introduced approximately 1,100 pieces of evidence to support its theory that MacDonald, under the stress of long work hours, marital problems, and an argument with his wife over his younger daughter's bed wetting, flew into a rage and killed his wife and older daughter. According to the prosecution, MacDonald then attempted to avoid prosecution and punishment by killing his youngest daughter and staging the crime scene, using an Esquire magazine containing an article about the celebrated murders committed by Charles Manson and his cult and stained with a mixture of Colette and Kimberly's blood, so that it would appear that a similar drug crazed cult had murdered his family.

The heart of the government's case was a painstaking reconstruction of the events surrounding the murders based on government scientists' analysis of blood, fibers, and other physical evidence found at the crime scene....

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