Both sides have wrapped up closing arguments in a hearing revisiting Jeffrey MacDonald's 1979 murder conviction. But a federal judge's decision on whether to vacate or uphold the original conviction or order a new trial could still be weeks away.
This morning, the former Army doctor's lawyers argued for a motion to vacate the 33-year-old conviction, based largely on statements from witnesses who said they heard Helena Stoeckley, a now-deceased drug user, claim that she was at the scene of the 1970 murders and that three of her friends attacked MacDonald, his pregnant wife and two daughters.
Yesterday, Jerry Leonard, the lawyer who represented Stoeckley during MacDonald's 1979 trial, said his client told him her friends -- high on drugs -- initially wanted to confront MacDonald over his tough stand against drug users.
"It got out of hand. People started getting hurt," Leonard recalled his client saying. "She didn't hurt anybody. She didn't know anybody was going to get hurt."
All of Stoeckley's alleged confessions about being at the crime scene have come through secondhand sources. When she was called to testify in MacDonald's 1979 trial, she said she had no recollection of the hours during the crime.
In closing arguments, the defense also brought up three "unsourced hairs" found at the crime scene, including one found under the fingernail of MacDonald's 2-year-old daughter Kristen. According to the defense, DNA analysis -- a forensic tool unavailable during 1970s -- shows the hairs are not linked to anyone in the MacDonald family.
"No reasonable juror would have found Jeffrey MacDonald guilty if that jury would have heard that new evidence," said defense lawyer Gordon Widenhouse.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Murtagh argued that unsourced hairs alone did not prove intruders committed the murders because every home has numerous third-party hairs and fingerprints.
Fellow prosecutor John Bruce discredited testimony from a now-deceased U.S. Marshal, Jimmy Britt, who claimed to have heard Stoeckley's confession of being present at the crime scene. Bruce said the hearing proved Britt never actually drove Stoeckley from South Carolina to North Carolina, where he had said one of the confessions occurred.
Judge James Fox told lawyers on both sides they have 60 days from receipt of court transcripts to file their respective briefs. And after those briefs are filed, he will rule on the case.
Mary Quinn O'Connor contributed to this report.