Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald

New Chapter — DNA Evidence

By Rachael Bell

In January 2006, new evidence emerged in the Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, which supporters of his innocence believed might lead to a new trial and possibly his freedom. In December 2005, Jimmy Britt's testimony that he had overheard Helena Stoeckley admit that she and others had gone into MacDonald' s house on the night in question and participated in the murders of his wife and children, was one of the first big breakthroughs in the case. Then in March 2006, new DNA evidence was publicly revealed that supports Stoeckley's testimony.

Forensic testing of a hair found clutched in MacDonald's youngest daughter Kristen's fingernail was confirmed to have come from an unidentified person. Martha Waggoner quoted MacDonald's lead attorney Tim Junkin in the Associated Press as saying that the unidentified hair was "a powerful piece of evidence that there were intruders in the house that night." Yet, according to the report, prosecutors didn't attach much significance to the new evidence being that the house was "expected to contain hairs from the persons other than the four who lived there," U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney stated.

Barry Scheck
Barry Scheck

The prosecution team was more interested in DNA tests that revealed that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald's hairs were confirmed to have been those found clutched in his wife's hand. Although Barry Scheck, DNA expert and a founder of The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, who has conducted pro bono work on the MacDonald case said that "the fact that there were some of his (MacDonald's) hairs found on or in her hand doesn't mean much, because he was trying to resuscitate her," he said during a CNN Larry King interview in March 2006. Scheck further suggested during the interview that other DNA evidence that is "going to help him (MacDonald)" was a long pubic hair purportedly belonging to an unidentified third person found between Colette's legs and 17 unmatched finger and palm prints also found at the crime scene.