Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

The Physical Evidence, Part 3

The lack of credibility and professionalism of the FBI laboratories became the stuff of headlines in the 1990s.  Its performance on the MacDonald case spotlights some of the issues.

Discredited or not, Judge Dupree allowed the prosecutors to present the evidence to the jury so that jurors could make up their own minds what to believe.  Unfortunately Judge Dupree did not permit the jury to hear the challenges to Stombaugh's credentials and they had difficulty understanding the scientific issues of the experiment.

Colette's hair entwined with pajama fibers

Similar to the pajama folding experiment, Stombaugh claimed that he analyzed a bloody hair from Colette's head, which was entwined with a fiber from MacDonald's pajamas.   The defense knew nothing of this new claim and wondered how this alleged piece of damning physical evidence had not been found nine years earlier.  Prosecutor Brian Murtagh had provided Stombaugh with the evidence, but had never alerted Segal to its existence.  Consequently, at the trial, the defense was unable to address this claim.  

Years later when laboratory notes were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, it was clear that the Army CID had examined this evidence three times and found no fiber and hair entwined at all!.  Furthermore, the bloodstained hair was not even Colette's, but Kimberly's.  Unfortunately for MacDonald, the jury never learned the truth that no hairs from any of the victims were found entwined with fibers from MacDonald's pajamas.

The bloody footprints on the bedspread

The government asserted that MacDonald left two bloody footprints on a blood-soaked bedspread as he transported Colette's body from one room to another.  Well after the trial the defense team learned that the FBI laboratory had repeatedly tested the bedspread looking for footprints and found none.  Of course, this information had been withheld from the defense and the prosecution continued to press its claim at the trial.  


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