Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

Appeals

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald's mile-wide streak of bad luck continues throughout most of the appeals that have been filed on his behalf, despite the highly capable and prestigious lawyers that have worked pro bono (without pay) to prove his innocence.

In 1990, Harvey Silverglate and his colleagues from his Boston law firm filed motions with Judge Dupree for a new trial based upon the discovery of evidence from the laboratory notes that was withheld by the prosecution in the original trial.  The long, blond synthetic fiber in Colette's hand was prominent in this motion for a new trial.  The prosecution argued that the saran synthetic fiber was never used to make wigs like the wig that Helena Stoeckley admitted wearing and was instead the fiber used in the hair of dolls.  Regardless of the falsity of this particular technical statement, Judge Dupree, who was never impartial on this case, took advantage of recent court decisions (McCleksey vs. Zant), which limited the time in which a defendant could produce new evidence in an appeal.  Despite the fact that Judge Dupree had specifically promised in the original trial that if the lab notes which the prosecution withheld turned out to be exculpatory he would allow a new trial, he reversed himself.   Dupree, fully aware that it took years to get the laboratory notes under the Freedom of Information Act, ruled that the defense was presenting the exculpatory evidence too late.  It is very difficult to justify the reasoning in this ruling.

This case was again reopened in 1997 with the defense team proving that the prosecution witness, an FBI agent who subsequently was found to have testified falsely in other cases, was wrong about the saran fibers.  An expert witness from the toy industry testified that saran fibers were never used for doll's hair, while saran fibers were in fact used in the manufacture of wigs.  Another part of this new petition was the ability to subject the "foreign" hairs (meaning hairs that were not from members of the MacDonald household) found under the fingernails of the victims to the DNA testing which had not been available at the time of the original trial.

Judge Fox, who replaced Judge Dupree, who had died in the interim period, denied that MacDonald had the right to request that the brown "foreign" hairs be subjected to DNA testing.

Fortunately, this unusual decision was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has given the MacDonald defense team an opportunity to begin the DNA testing.  Despite this order from the federal court, the government is still refusing to turn over the evidence for DNA testing on the grounds that it is a violation of the writ of habeas corpus.

 

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