Jeffrey-MacDonald200Eighteen months have passed since James Fox, a judge for the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina, told defense attorneys and prosecutors that he needed to “get it settled” in his own mind “what we’re doing and where we’re going.”  Those comments came at the close of the newest quest for Jeffrey MacDonald’s freedom, a 7-day hearing in late 2012.  Since then, prosecutors and defense attorneys have waited.  Transcripts were prepared in early 2013 and submitted as official record.  Attorneys filed their last arguments in late 2013.  Fox has given no public indication of when a ruling could come.

MacDonald (left), now 70, has always maintained his innocence.  Forty years ago he was accused of murdering his wife and two daughters in their Fort Bragg apartment.  The former Army captain and Princeton doctor has spent half of his life fighting his conviction.  Over the years, the case has shifted from the crime itself to the procedures used in the investigation and at trial.  The hearing in front of Fox was to consider the defense’s claims about DNA evidence and statements made by a  former marshal and family members of a woman spotted by law enforcement near the murder scene.

The late Franklin Dupree was the presiding judge over the 1979 trial and for many of the post-trial proceedings.  Dupree died in 1995 and Fox, who has been in semi-retirement since 2001, found himself in the unusual position of taking the case over after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the MacDonald case back to him.  In 2011, the federal appeals court reversed a ruling in the MacDonald case, telling Fox he needed to consider claims of DNA evidence in the context of “all the evidence.”  Dupree had dismissed MacDonald’s new evidence claims.

MacDonald’s case has been the subject of several best-selling books, countless articles, and one TV miniseries and like many high-profile cases has created strong groups of opinions.  Some contend MacDonald is an exploitative psychopath who deserves his life sentence, others argue that MacDonald is the victim of wrongful conviction.  MacDonald has always said that he was asleep on the living room couch in 1970 when he awoke to three intruders who clubbed him and stabbed him and chanted “acid is groovy, kill the pigs”.  They also repeatedly stabbed his wife and daughters.

The case has seen the aging of many participants and the death of many others.  The recent death of controversial journalist Joe McGinniss, who wrote Fatal Vision, in which he pretended to believe MacDonald’s claims of innocence in order to obtain an insider’s account with the man, then produced a story accusing him using his own words.  McGinniss was given almost total access to the defense during the trial.  McGinniss said that he came to conclude the jury decided their verdict correctly, but didn’t want to lose his access.

“[MacDonald] tried to con me from the first day, and it took me a long time to be aware of that,” McGinniss had said.  Those who believe MacDonald is guilty excuse McGinniss’ actions by saying that MacDonald will never reveal what happened, so this is the only way to get him to talk.

Between McGinniss and the case, there have been three long debated topics:  journalists and ethics, will the case outlive those involved, and is MacDonald really guilty?

McGinniss’ long friendship and eventual falling out with MacDonald inspired Janet Malcolm’s book, The Journalist and the Murderer, whose first few sentences read:

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.  He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people…gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

Recently, author Walter Kirn, had a similar relationship with Clark Rockefeller, a.k.a Christian Gerhartsreiter, for his new book:  Blood Will Out:  The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade.  He writes about how he was conned by a German immigrant who had schemed his way into “old-money” society.

Kirn told Weekly, “In the game of public relations versus truth seeking, the forces of public relations have had the upper hand for a while…”


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