Ex-Army Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald's lawyers rest, prosecutors begin presenting their case
The Fayetteville Observer
WILMINGTON - Former Army Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald's lawyers rested their case today after two days of testimony that attempted to raise doubts about his 1979 conviction for the slaughter of his family on Fort Bragg in 1970.
Federal prosecutors opened their case in U.S. District Court in Wilmington with testimony aimed at discrediting statements from a retired deputy U.S. marshal years ago alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
The marshal, Jimmy Britt, told MacDonald's former lawyer in 2005 that a prosecutor had pressured a witness to lie on the stand in 1979. The lawyer, Wade Smith, testified Monday about the statements by Britt, who has since died. Britt said Helena Stoeckley confessed to him that she was present when a group of drug addicts broke into the MacDonalds' home and killed the wife and two children. Britt swore that Stoeckley was coerced to lie about her involvement during MacDonald's trial, according to testimony and documents.
But prosecution witnesses today raised questions about Britt's story.
Britt had said he drove Stoeckley from South Carolina to Raleigh in August 1979 for the trial, and she confessed during the drive. Dennis Meehan, a retired deputy marshal, testified today that he transported Stoeckley, not Britt. Meehan said Britt drove Stoeckley the next day from the Wake County Jail to the federal courthouse, about six blocks.
Meehan's testimony also countered Britt's assertion that he witnessed prosecutor Jim Blackburn privately pressure Stoeckley to lie on the stand. Meehan said that as a deputy marshal, he never sat in on meetings between a prosecutor and a witness such as Stoeckley.
Stoeckley died in 1983.
Britt's credibility was further attacked with testimony from retired chief deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Berryhill, who was one of his supervisors.
"I knew him exceedingly well," Berryhill said. "I found Jimmy Britt to be rather large in ego and rather small when it came to veracity."
He said Britt was marginal as an employee.
In other testimony today, Blackburn said he interviewed Stoeckley along with the U.S. attorney and other assistants. He asked her if she was at the MacDonald home or had any involvement in the MacDonald murders. He said she answered: "No I did not. I was not there.''
Blackburn was asked whether he had ever threatened Stoeckley.
"No I never did that,'' he said.
He also talked about his 1993 conviction for fraud and embezzlement.
"I really shot my legal career in the head,'' he said.
Blackburn was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in an unrelated case in 1993. He spent three months in prison, was disbarred and later became a motivational speaker.
MacDonald, now 68, is serving three life sentences for the beating and stabbing deaths of his pregnant wife, Colette, and their daughters, Kimberley and Kristen. MacDonald was a doctor working for Special Forces units in 1969 and 1970.
He is seeking to have his conviction overturned on the premise that evidence unearthed since his conviction - Britt's statements, a affidavit from Stoeckley's mother and DNA samples from the crime scene - would have given jurors reasonable doubt and prevented his conviction.