Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

New Evidence of Innocence

It must be very difficult for Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, 62, to get his hopes up, considering how things have gone for him in the courts thus far. However, there are enough people who are convinced of his innocence to keep this case alive for so many decades.

Jeffrey MacDonald incarcerated
Jeffrey MacDonald incarcerated

Papers filed in the federal appeals court in Richmond, VA, on Dec. 13 ask the court to set aside his life sentence after the discovery of new evidence that supports his innocence. Retired U.S. Marshall Jimmy B. Britt came forward with the statement that he was present in 1979 when Helena Stoeckley, an early suspect in the case who died in 1983, admitted to MacDonald prosecutor James Blackburn that she and others had gone to the MacDonald house to get drugs. Stoeckley knew things about the MacDonald home that were never revealed in the press.

Britt's affidavit, as reported in the Wall St. Journal Dec. 14, states that Blackburn threatened Stoeckley, that he would indict her for murder if she told the jury what she told him. Blackburn's threat was successful because the next day Stoeckley told the jury she couldn't remember what she did the night of the murders.

Britt's statement appears to be pretty solid. He has passed a polygraph and he had told two friends from the Marshall Service last year about the secret that he had kept for so long. Britt told the Wall St. Journal that he needed to "unload the moral burden."

"Ultimately, I decided that I had a duty to come forward," Britt said.

Blackburn denied Britt's claim. However, Blackburn has some credibility problems that Britt does not. In 1993 Blackburn pleaded guilty to a number of felonies, including embezzlement, forgery, and stealing several hundred thousand dollars from his law firm. Blackburn, who was disbarred and imprisoned, is now a speaker who gives ethics lectures to lawyers. MacDonald co-prosecutor Brian Murtagh has declined to comment on Britt's affidavit. Murtagh is now deputy chief of the Terrorism and Violent Crime section in the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

Despite the long incarceration of MacDonald since 1979, there is a growing and highly competent group dedicated to proving his innocence by finally getting all the evidence before a jury and an unbiased judge.  The progress of their efforts can be monitored at http://www.themacdonaldcase.org 

Jerry Potter and Fred Bost, authors of Fatal Justice  also have a web site, which goes into detail about physical evidence.

 

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