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Author Errol Morris, an Oscar-winning documentarian whose 'A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald' was published this month by Penguin Press, leaves the federal courthouse in Wilmington, N.C.
Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer
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Date published: 9/18/2012
WILMINGTON, N.C.--Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret captain and Princeton-educated doctor convicted of slaughtering his family 42 years ago, shuffled into a federal courtroom in this historic port city hoping to gain a brighter future by revisiting the past.
Dressed in the drab garb of his prison life--tan pants, a tan shirt and tan shower shoes, with leg shackles confining his gait--the man described as debonair and handsome at his 1979 trial was gray-haired and frail.
In a hearing projected to last as long as two weeks, MacDonald's defense team is seeking to win relief for the federal inmate--No. 0131-177--by bringing fresh hindsight to old evidence.
The hearing comes in the wake of a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in April 2011 that sent the case back to the trial court level.
Judge James Fox in North Carolina's federal Eastern District is to consider new claims about DNA evidence that was tested in 2006. MacDonald's latest defense team contends that three hairs--one from a bedspread, another from the fingernail of the 2-year-old daughter and a third from under the stabbed and bludgeoned body of Colette MacDonald--bolster their theory that intruders were responsible for the bloody crimes.
The judge also will consider statements made by a former marshal and the mother of a drug-addled woman spotted by law enforcement officers near the murder scene.
Though the hearing is not a retrial of the decades-old case, the first three hours have echoes of a trial that created strong camps of opinion.
On Monday morning, Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith, a member of the MacDonald defense team 32 years ago, was in the unusual position of being called to testify about the case.
Through the years, key figures have died. Smith testified on Monday about two of those people: Deputy U.S. Marshal Jimmy Britt and Helena Stoeckley.
Britt came forward in 2005 to say that he saw prosecutor James Blackburn threaten Stoeckley, often referred to as the "woman in the floppy hat," who claimed she was inside the MacDonald home when the murders occurred. Smith also testified about meeting with Stoeckley before she was called to the witness stand.