Judge rejects compassionate release for former Fort Bragg officer convicted of murdering wife, children

Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, middle, arrives at the U.S. District Court in Raleigh, North Carolina, flanked by his lawyers Wade Smith, left, and Bernard Segal on July 17, 1979.


By JOSH SHAFFER | The News & Observer | Published: April 9, 2021

RALEIGH, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Jeffrey MacDonald will not receive compassionate release from prison, another setback in the former Green Beret’s struggle to step away from the notorious Fort Bragg murders of his family.

U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle rejected the 77-year-old inmate’s request Friday, which his lawyers urged last month due to his age, failing health and decades behind bars.

In 1970, Army investigators found MacDonald’s wife, Colette, and their two daughters, Kimberley and Kristin, beaten and stabbed to death inside their Fort Bragg home.

MacDonald, both a medical doctor and Green Beret, had a lung-puncturing stab wound in the chest. He told investigators he and his family had been slain by hippies who broke in chanting, “Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs.”

Murder charges against MacDonald were dropped that same year, but Colette’s family urged the federal courts to take up the case, resulting in his indictment, three guilty verdicts and three life sentences.

After years of legal wrangling and a brief release, MacDonald has long insisted on his innocence and sought release. The case famously unwound in Joe McGinness’ 1983 book “Fatal Vision,” based on the writer agreeing to embed with McDonald during his legal fight but ultimately becoming convinced of his guilt.

Attorneys for MacDonald argued in U.S. District Court that their client has roughly three years to live if he starts kidney dialysis. That chronic condition, coupled with skin cancer and hypertension, qualify him for release from a prison environment where COVID-19 remains a threat, his lawyers said.

MacDonald’s attorneys filed a motion in federal court in November citing staff shortages at the western Maryland prison that houses MacDonald, noting that inmates there continued making license plates even after COVID-19 cases appeared. As one factory worker there, MacDonald was placed under quarantine last year.

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