The case of Jeffrey MacDonald, 68, the former Green Beret captain and medical doctor who was convicted of the 1970 murders of his wife and daughters, is getting some important second looks.
MacDonald, who has now served 30 years in prison, has always claimed innocence. Many know the case through Joe McGinness’s book “Fatal Vision.” A new portrayal by Oscar-award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris—his 500-page “A Wilderness of Error”— may have some viewing the case more aptly as “tunnel vision.”
Rob Warden, Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, reviewed the book for the Chicago Tribune (here), and has called it “a compelling case that (MacDonald)…did not commit the horrific crime for which he continues to serve life in federal prison.”
In the decades since MacDonald’s conviction, DNA has taught the nation that our criminal justice system—contrary to conventional wisdom—does occasionally convict innocent people. We recognize familiar issues in the case: Allegations of official misconduct, the discounting of evidence that didn’t fit the prosecution’s crime theory, contrary forensic evidence not known to the defense. MacDonald has been denied parole because he won’t admit guilt, the Catch-22 of the wrongfully convicted.
This week a hearing in Wilmington, N.C. before Senior U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox, will determine whether or not new evidence not known to the jurors would have prompted a different verdict. According to Warden, “If Judge Fox finds the evidence anywhere near as compelling as Morris does, MacDonald will receive a new trial and eventually perhaps be exonerated and released.”