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Judge weighs new evidence in MacDonald murder case

Jeffrey MacDonald at the Federal Correctional Institution in

Jeffrey MacDonald at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, OR. A former Green Beret doctor from Patchogue, he was convicted of murdering his wife and two daughters in 1970. (June 12, 1997) Credit: AP

A new round of court hearings over whether former Patchogue resident Jeffrey MacDonald should be granted a new trial has ended, and a ruling on the case of the Green Beret Army doctor serving life in prison for killing his wife and two children in 1970 is months away.

Testimony concluded Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, N.C., and Judge James Fox gave attorneys for MacDonald and the government 60 days to file additional legal arguments.

Robert Stevenson, 73, the brother of MacDonald's wife, Colette, said Wednesday that after attending five days of the seven-day hearing he is confident the conviction will be upheld. "I believe the outcome will be entirely favorable," he said.

Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals gave MacDonald a rare victory in his protracted battle to overturn his murder conviction by ruling that his claim of new evidence should be heard in court but weighed as part of the overall case against him, not on its merits alone.

That ruling also warned that "MacDonald has a daunting burden" in his battle to overturn his conviction on Aug. 29, 1979, on charges of murdering his wife, who was pregnant, and his daughters, Kimberly, 5, and Kristen, 2, in their apartment in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Attorneys for MacDonald, who contended intruders killed his family, argued before Fox that DNA tests conducted in 2006 showed three hair fibers found at the crime scene did not match any family members or any known person.

They also argued that prosecutors in the original trial had tried to intimidate a known drug addict who has since died, Helen Stoeckley, against testifying that she had broken into the MacDonald house the night of the murders with her boyfriend and two other men.

"MacDonald would have had a fairer trial if the Stoeckley evidence had been admitted in trial," attorney Gordon Widenhouse told the judge.

Stoeckley testified briefly for the defense at the original trial and said she had been on drugs and could not remember the night of the murder. She then left the witness stand, subject to being recalled. Jerry Leonard, an attorney appointed to represent her after her testimony, submitted an affidavit to Fox saying she had given him contradictory versions of what happened that night.

Leonard said if Stoeckley had been recalled, she would have invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. She was not recalled.

Prosecutors noted the hair fibers did not match the DNA of Stoeckley or her boyfriend, and that the hairs had no blood, which would indicate they had been yanked out in a struggle.

With The Associated Press

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