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Former Army Special Forces soldier is free, mom still faces trial in Baby Macy beating death

Jeanie Ditty and Zachary Keefer.

FAYETTEVILLE POLICE DEPT.

By PAUL WOOLVERTON | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 14, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Murder and child abuse charges were dropped this month against former Army Special Forces soldier Zachary Earl Keefer, who was accused of fatally injuring a toddler at her mother's apartment in Spring Lake in December 2015.

Charges are still pending against Keefer's co-defendant, 27-year-old Jeanie Kassandra Ditty. Ditty, a former Fort Bragg soldier, remains jailed on first-degree murder and child abuse charges for the death of 2-year-old Macy Grace Ditty. Her trial is expected to take place in March, her lawyer said.

Keefer, 35, was set free Nov. 1 after spending nearly 44 months in the Cumberland County Detention Center.

"I would say it's probably the toughest thing I ever had to go through in my life, being accused of something I didn't do," Keefer said on Wednesday. That includes four combat deployments overseas, he said.

"And it's hard to get a voice — a voice and to get people to believe you in the justice system," Keefer said. He described himself as being "ground up and spit out" in the machinery of the court system. "And they kind of squeeze you to take a plea," he said.

Now, Keefer said, he is trying to rebuild his life and be a good father to his daughter, who is 8 years old.

Keefer still has pending charges in Harnett County that accuse him of assaulting his estranged wife before his arrest in connection to Macy's death. "It never happened. I never put my hands on her," Keefer said Wednesday.

Macy was beaten in the head and had bruises throughout her body when she was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, a search warrant affidavit says, and a doctor reported she appeared to have little brain activity. Macy died two days later — 10 days short of her third birthday.

Keefer and Ditty were arrested in March 2016.

Ditty and Keefer blame each other for Macy's homicide, according to interviews with Keefer and with Ditty's lawyer, Cumberland County Public Defender Bernard Condlin.

According to interviews and court records, Keefer and Ditty had an adulterous relationship. They agree that Keefer visited Ditty's apartment, but they disagree on what happened next.

Keefer's version: Within 30 minutes of his arrival, he saw the Macy was vomiting, had clenched her jaw and her limbs had involuntarily movements that indicated her brain was deprived of oxygen. He said he told Ditty to call 911 while he tried to help Macy.

Ditty's version: Keefer stopped by to watch Macy while Ditty went to a medical appointment. Macy was fine when she left but in medical distress when she got back later that morning. Then she called 911.

The prosecutor dropped the charges against Keefer, said Keefer defense lawyer Tony Buzzard, because medical evidence showed that the fatal injuries occurred at least 12 hours before Ditty called 911 to get help for Macy. That would have been hours before the evidence indicated Keefer arrived at Ditty's apartment, Buzzard said.

Prosecutor Julia Wolf Hejazi could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She wrote on the dismissal document, "New medical information provides a clearer timeline of events and contradicts previous medical information."

The new information changed the strength of the prosecution's case against Keefer and affected "the likelihood of conviction and meeting the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt," Hejazi wrote.

Hejazi is from the Mecklenburg County District Attorney Office and was handling the case because the Cumberland County District Attorney Office recused itself in spring 2018.

Condlin said Wednesday that the evidence on when Macy was beaten has changed again since Hejazi dropped the charges against Keefer.

A radiologist who concluded that Macy's injuries occurred hours before Keefer arrived at the apartment withdrew that opinion after consulting other doctors, Condlin said. The doctor said the opinion was in error, Condlin said. This happened a few days after Keefer was freed, he said.

"So the experts do not agree on exactly when the time occurred, and we have an expert that will obviously say when Mr. Keefer had exclusive control of Macy," Condlin said.

pwoolverton@fayobserver.com

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