Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald was falsely convicted in August, 1979 of the murder of his wife, Colette, and two young daughters (5 year old Kimberley, and 2 year old Kristen MacDonald) in a bloody and grisly satanic style murder scene that took place in their home in the early morning hours on Ft. Bragg Army base in North Carolina. The murders were committed by a local satanic cult of drug users (referred to as “hippies” in the newspapers at the time) which included five active duty enlisted army men who had targeted the MacDonald family because Dr. MacDonald was perceived by this group of drug users as a “snitch”; as MacDonald was adhering to the base commander’s new policy of reporting the names of Army personnel who were being admitted to the Emergency Room for overdosing on heroin or other serious drugs .One of those cult members (Greg Mitchell) had even threatened a pregnant Colette MacDonald, Jeff’s wife, at the Ft. Bragg college learning center where she was taking a course in psychology, on the very evening before her murder.
Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald was convicted of the murder of his wife, Colette, and their two children. The trial took place in the United States District court, Raleigh, North Carolina in August 1979. Dr. MacDonald was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. This conviction was the culmination of a nine-year effort by the Department of Justice and the Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.), Department of the Army. The government claimed Dr. MacDonald staged a Manson-type slaughter of his pregnant wife and two children in his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on February 17, 1970.
The government case is allegedly supported by a very hypothetical reconstruction of the crime scene. The government claims blood spots, fibers from torn garments, and “fabric impressions” on a sheet disprove the (jumbled) memories of Dr. MacDonald when he recounted to investigators what happened in those early morning hours. The government, admittedly, has never developed any credible motive to account for such brutal slayings; additionally, the government admits to many crime scene errors and losses of evidence, which the defense claims invalidates the government’s hypothetical crime scene reconstruction
The defense scenario is quite different from the government scenario. The defense claims that in the early morning hours of February 17, 1970 Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, then a Green Beret captain and physician at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was awakened by the screams of his wife. She was in their bedroom; he had gone to sleep on the couch because his younger daughter had climbed into the double bed in the master bedroom and wet the bed. Dr. MacDonald saw at least three men and a woman standing over him. There was a brief struggle, during which he was beaten and stabbed. His pajama top had been pulled up over his head and had bound his wrists, rendering him somewhat defenseless. He collapsed in the hallway and later awakened to a cold, quiet house. He went to his pregnant wife, then to each of their two daughters, trying to resuscitate them. They had been brutally murdered. In disbelief, he called for police and ambulances, and finally collapsed next to his wife’s body.
What happened during the next few hours (and, indeed, days and weeks) of the initial investigation was as criminal, although in a different way, as the violence that occurred that morning. To be brief, the crime scene was never secured, upwards of 30 people walked through the house moving things, contaminating the scene, and changing and destroying evidence. Dr. MacDonald was rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung and multiple other wounds. His pajama bottoms were negligently discarded, even though they would have been a crucial piece of evidence. Importantly, because the MT dispatcher automatically figured that there must have been some sort of family dispute, investigators went to the task with a mind-set which likely tainted the investigation from the outset. Within hours, the Army C.I.D. had focused on Dr. MacDonald as the chief suspect, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
A woman matching the description of the female assailant, Helena Stoeckley, who later confessed on several occasions, had been seen in the area near the house shortly after the incident by one of the responding MPs. She was not pursued at that time. The defense was later to learn that there was much additional exculpatory evidence, some negligently destroyed, but some intentionally destroyed, the existence of which was withheld from the defense until discovered through tireless investigation and the release of Freedom of Information Act(F.O.I.A.) documents, aided by some congressional pressure. Importantly, it wasn’t until 1983, four years post trial, that the majority of the exculpatory evidence was discovered in F.O.I.A. files.
Back on April 6, 1970, Dr. MacDonald was first told that he was a suspect. An Army tribunal (Article 32 Hearing) was subsequently convened, and after hearing all the evidence over five months, including the testimony of many witnesses who knew the MacDonalds and had observed a normal marriage and family relationship, Dr. MacDonald was found to be innocent of the charges against him. The hearing officer recommended that the woman, Helena Stoeckley, and her group be investigated. The hearing officer specifically cited both forensic evidence and extensive psychiatric evaluations of Dr. MacDonald by both defense and prosecution as important to his findings.
At the conclusion of the hearing, in October 1970, the following recommendations were made:
- “All charges and specifications against Captain Jeffrey R. MacDonald be dismissed because the matters set forth in all charges and specifications are not true. There are lesser charges and/or specifications which are appropriate.”
- “That appropriate civilian authorities be requested to investigate the alibi of Helena Stoeckley, Fayetteville, North Carolina, reference her activities and whereabouts during the early morning hours of 17 February, 1970, based on evidence presented during the hearing.”
In spite of these recommendations, the Army virtually ignored the possibility that Helena Stoeckley and her associates committed the murders and continued to investigate Dr. MacDonald.
Dr. MacDonald was honorably discharged from the Army and began rebuilding his life in California as a respected emergency physician. However, the Army C.I.D. undertook a reinvestigation of the crimes after having received pressure when Dr. MacDonald and his father-in-law pressured Congress. In 1974, a federal grand jury was empaneled and investigated the case for six months, finally returning an indictment against Dr. MacDonald in 1975. The prosecution was handled by a Department of Justice grand jury “specialist,” now deceased, and a lawyer, Brian Murtaugh, who worked in the C.I.D. “reinvestigation” in 1971-72, and who now worked for the Department of Justice. The grand jury indictment was later to be called one of the most bizarre “inquisitions” ever to mock our constitutional due process standards.
There followed years of procedural maneuvers from both prosecution and defense, and in the summer of 1979 there was a trial in Raleigh, North Carolina. The trial judge, Franklin Dupree, never disclosed the fact that the early prosecutor in the case had been his son-in-law, now divorced from the judge’s daughter, but still, of course, the father of the judge’s grandchild.
During the trial, all 24 consecutive defense motions for admission of evidence or discovery were denied. Simultaneously, the government received positive decisions on seven of their eight motions.
Additionally, numerous critical exculpatory items were hidden from the defense at trial. These items included fingerprints, the loss of a crucial piece of skin from under Colette’s fingernail, photos, reliability of witnesses, bloody boots from the female intruder, and the existence of witnesses who saw the group of assailants. Helena Stoeckley’s vague admissions of guilt were held to be unreliable for purposes of admitting them as evidence. Yet she was a drug informant for several law enforcement agencies and as an informant she was considered sufficiently reliable to have provided local police with the apprehension of over a hundred suspects for drug-related crimes, although the proof of this statement was hidden until the 1983 release of F.O.I.A. documents. Later, F.O.I.A. documents also proved Helena Stoeckley was so competent, she was used by Nashville police for internal affairs investigations.
The judge also disallowed Dr. MacDonald’s seven critical witnesses, those being seven persons who corroborated the admissions of guilt by Helena Stoeckley, the so-called woman in the floppy hat with the candle. She had, additionally, implicated herself in a C.I.D. polygraph, but the testimony of the C.I.D. examiner who came to the defense over prosecution objections was not allowed by the judge.
Finally due to the loss of all 24 consecutive motions by the defense (for discovery or for presentation of critical evidence), the trial came down to the allegedly carefully constructed case against Dr. MacDonald, based on very sketchy (and grossly hypothetical) forensic evidence reconstructed from a destroyed crime scene on the one hand, and on the other hand opposed basically by character and psychiatric witnesses for Dr. MacDonald. This brings us to Dr. Brussel and a final crushing blow to the defense.
Judge Dupree declared that if the defense hoped to have its psychiatrists testify at trial Dr. MacDonald would have to submit to an additional, psychiatric evaluation by the government’s psychiatrist. This seemed unusual at the time, since Dr. MacDonald had already been evaluated by two sets of defense psychiatrists, and also by a three-man team at Walter Read Army Hospital for the prosecution — and all exams were essentially very positive and similar. The new exam turned out to be a “sham”; the examiner was one Dr. James Brussel from New York, aided by New Jersey psychologist Hirsch Lazzar Silverman The “psychiatric exam” lasted 35 minutes and consisted of no psychiatric questions. Instead, Dr. Brussel read prosecution questions typed by prosecutor Brian Murtagh. Dr. Brussel was almost 80 years old, senile, had recently had a stroke, was drooling from his mouth, and thought be was in Maryland, not North Carolina. He asked for his hat as he departed that day, having to be told by defense counsel that it was already on his head.
Astonishingly, Dr. Brussel told Judge Dupree, in camera, that his findings were in total contrast to those of all other examiners and Judge Dupree promptly disallowed all psychiatric evidence at trial, claiming he didn’t want a “battle of the experts.”
Having effectively excluded all possible exculpatory evidence, much of which was yet unknown to the defense, the government succeeded in a conviction on all counts, resulting in three consecutive life sentences for Dr. MacDonald. Appeals followed on the basis of many issues, including speedy trial and due process grounds, prejudicial failure to admit the declaration against interest made by Helena Stoeckley, exclusion of the defense expert psychiatrist, after-discovered evidence, and recusal of the trial judge for bias. All appeals failed, including recusal.
Unless we can, get to the heart of the reasons for some of the cover-ups, Dr. MacDonald is without remedy. At this point, Dr. MacDonald has been fighting for vindication for 18 years, and has been in prison for over twelve years. The defense believes, with strong evidence, he is innocent and wrongly incarcerated.
The defense case has been reinvestigated by two investigators since 1979. Ted Gunderson, retired FBI and former Special Agent-in-Charge of the Los Angeles, California FBI office, initially began in 1979, months after the convictions. He has, to this date, logged thousands of hours on the case, most of them unpaid. At present, he still works on the case, operating out of his Los Angeles, California office. It was Gunderson’s work which produced the initial signed confessions from Helena Stoeckley, as well as later F.O.I.A.
In 1982, new attorneys in the case retained Raymond Shedlick, Jr., a former New York homicide detective, who was based in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He worked almost exclusively on the case for two full years. He, too, has logged countless thousands of hours on the case, corroborating facts, weeding out the lunatic fringe that often tries to associate with a case of this magnitude.
The investigations of these two renowned investigators has dovetailed into a coherent set of facts and witnesses, buttressed by forensic evidence, expert testimony and polygraph evidence, that clearly indicates the innocence of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald and the guilt of Helena Stoeckley, Greg Mitchell and their co-assailants. Raymond Shedlick built on Ted Gunderson’s initial confessions from Helena Stoeckley, and via F.O.I.A. material and new witnesses, they have constructed a scenario for the crimes that totally disproves, in real evidence, the hypothetical government scenario set forth at trial in 1979.
The following is a list of some major points and facts in the MacDonald case. Each point is documented many times by government files released under F.O.I..A. 13 years after the crimes and four years post-conviction.
- The original crime scene was chaos. It was never secured in the first several hours. Upwards of 30 persons, including military police, neighbors and unidentified persons, wandered through the crime scene. Evidence is known to have been touched, moved, changed and destroyed.
- Crucial evidence seen by C.I.D. investigators never appeared in later C.I.D. lab reports; additionally, crucial evidence favorable to MacDonald was left off government diagrams and charts used at trial in 1979. This includes most crucially both blood and fiber evidence from the living room end of the hallway, the location of Dr. MacDonald’s struggle.
- Evidence developed in 1980 by Gunderson and confirmed by both the F.O.I.A material and the independent Shedlick investigation confirms that the initial prosecutor in the case was James Proctor, son-in-law of Judge Dupree. Dupree was the trial judge who emasculated almost every bit of exculpatory evidence for the defense, and he remains, to this day, the judge on the case for any new evidence or appeals. James Proctor is the person who personally turned the investigation from Helena Stoeckley and co-assailants to Dr. MacDonald for the Department of Justice.
- Much evidence is available to believe that a major investigator for the Army C.I.D. and his good friend, one of the local Fayetteville, North Carolina police lieutenants, were heavily involved in drug trafficking that included the importation of narcotics from Vietnam.
According to Helena Stoeckley, the lieutenant had used her over a period of time for sex, holding the threat of jail over her bead for some drug-related offense. Stoeckley died in 1983, post-trial, allegedly of natural causes. She died at home, purportedly of a liver disease and pneumonia, but it was a sudden death, inconsistent with liver disease or pneumonia in a 32 year old person. She was home alone with her baby and it was her custom to seek help when she was ill since she was a very attentive mother to her son. She did not seek help at this time but she had previously expressed to her friend and an investigator that she was ready to tell something that she knew was going to be a “major bombshell” about the MacDonald case. She had hesitated to do so before because she had asked for immunity and it had been denied. (Interestingly, a resident of Stoeckley’s apartment building had seen two clean-cut men in suits who had asked for Stoeckley and hung around for about two days immediately prior to her death. A forensic pathologist was present at her autopsy, and if, in fact, Stoeckley had been the victim of foul play, it was undetectable on autopsy.)
- The defense discovered that Dr. Brussel was not a “neutral examiner” at trial in 1979, as purported. F.O.I.A. records released in 1983 confirm that he was a “consultant” on the case from 1970 to 1971, until the time of the trial. He was, incredibly enough, consulted as an “expert” in LSD, and was brought into the case by William Ivory, C.I.D., the chief investigator in the case, who had been responsible for the “loss” of all the initial exculpatory evidence. Unbeknownst to the defense, from 1970 to 1979 Brussel had opined that Dr. MacDonald was a liar, a psychopathic, homicidal and that “hippies wouldn’t have done the crimes” in 1970 because it wasn’t haphazard enough. He reached his conclusion with his only source of information being C.I.D. agent William Ivory.
Clearly, then, his exam of Dr. MacDonald in 1979 not only was a sham, as Dr. MacDonald and his attorneys recognized in 1979, but it was also a fraud upon the court as well. Needless to say, Judge Dupree denied every review of these startling findings, a decision confirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and cert was denied by the United States Supreme Court.
- Regarding Helena Stoeckley: She initially made oral admissions of guilt in 1970 to Fayetteville, North Carolina police detective Prince Beasley. The C.I.D. was not interested enough to even interview her until ordered to do so by the Article 32 hearing officer, Col. Warren V. Rock, some six months after the murders.
Post-trial once Ted Gunderson entered the case, he and Prince Beasley tracked her down and began extracting information of considerable value. Over the next two years, in signed and taped confessions, Helena Stoeckley named her co-assailants, described “insider” detail to Gunderson, and for the first time provided the real motive for the killings, i.e., anger at MacDonald for not being sympathetic to drug abusers, plus a fear he had turned in several users, a claim supported by other reputable Army personnel in sworn testimony.
- Ted Gunderson’s efforts didn’t stop with Helena Stoeckley and her confessions. He began the investigations into her co-assailants and located significant corroborating witnesses. In addition, he had Helena Stoeckley polygraphed and had her examined by a forensic psychologist at UCLA Dr. Rex Julian Beaber, who found her totally capable of recall, memory and accurate testimony.
- Helena Stoeckley was polygraphed by a United States Army lead polygrapher, Robert Brisentine, in 1971. Mr. Brisentine felt the results corroborated Helena Stoeckley’s involvement, that she was present at the crime scene, and that she knew the identity of the co-assailants. Mr. Brisentine was ordered by the prosecutor not to discuss his results with the defense, but he did so over their objections. His testimony was not heard by the jury due to a Judge Dupree ruling at the trial.
Ted Gunderson had Helena Stoeckley polygraphed again in 1982. The results confirm her complicity in the crimes.
- Helena Stoeckley named, among others, Dwight Smith (a Negro male who oftentimes wore an Army jacket with E-6 sergeant stripes), Greg Mitchell and Shelby Don Harris as co-assailants. She admits to being part of a drug-oriented “cult” that sacrificed animals and had a history violence, including stabbings. The MacDonald murders involved her initiation into the Satanic cult.
- The defense has approximately 40 witnesses who corroborated the admissions of guilt by Helena Stoeckley Greg Mitchell, Shelby Don Harris, Dwight Smith and Cathy Perry. These witnesses had, variously, overheard the group before the killings, seen the group immediately prior to the killings, seen the group leaving the area of the MacDonald house at the time of the killings, and had seen the group in bloody clothing after the killings.
- Most importantly, these witnesses corroborate the confessions of Helena Stoeckley, Greg Mitchell and Cathy Perry as well as overheard admissions of guilt from two others of the group. The confessions of Helena Stoeckley and Cathy Perry are signed confessions. The confessions of Greg Mitchell was to multiple witnesses on several occasions under various circumstances.
- Helena Stoeckley named Greg Mitchell as the person who personally murdered Colette. Found under Colette’s fingernail was skin (now missing) and blood of the blood type of Greg Mitchell, not blood from Dr. MacDonald, who has a different blood type than either Colette or Greg Mitchell.
- Insider information given by Helena Stoeckley to Ted Gunderson includes the presence of a rocking horse in one child’s bedroom with a broken spring, a phone call from a now-identified individual, a barking German shepherd next door, the presence and type of jewelry box in the MacDonald bedroom, and the specific wounds on one of the children (stab wounds on her chest in the shape of an “S”; Helena Stoeckley stated the “S” was for “Satan”). Additionally, Stoeckley described vehicles used that night, and independent witnesses corroborate the presence of two of the vehicles (the Mustang and a cream-colored sedan).
- Helena Stoeckley was told by C.I.D. investigators in 1972 to “let sleeping dogs lie” regarding her coming forth with new evidence in the case. This information corresponds with C.I.D. and prosecution hiding of the polygraph of Helena Stoeckley and prosecutors r directions to an MP in 1970 not to volunteer information that he, as responding MP to the crime scene, had seen a woman in a floppy hat just blocks from the MacDonald home at 3:50 A.M. in freezing rain.
- Request for immunity for Helena Stoeckley were ignored in 1979 and 1982. She died in January 1983, shortly after contacting Fayetteville, North Carolina police detective Prince Beasley, saying she had urgent information for him. Before Beasley could arrange to get from North Carolina to South Carolina she was dead.
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