Case Facts

A Series of Interesting Facts on the MacDonald Case

CASE FACT

The book Fatal Vision was shown in a court of law to be a fraudulent and fictional account of the MacDonald Case.

For many years, Joe McGinniss’s best-selling novel Fatal Vision was viewed as the definitive book on the MacDonald case. The book, and the ensuing mini-series based on it, were accepted as fact, since McGinniss had direct access to, and cooperation from, his subject. His portrayal of MacDonald as a cold, narcissistic killer has been indelibly imprinted in the public’s collective psyche over the years; the residual effects have tainted every court proceeding since trial.

People who are new to this case may be aware of Fatal Vision and its impact, but few are aware of the fact that in 1984, Dr. MacDonald took the unprecedented step of suing Joe McGinniss for breach of contract and fraud – while incarcerated in federal prison. McGinniss’s manipulation of conversations and circumstances, conjecture, and blatant lies were exposed in court, and MacDonald won a settlement
of over a third of a million dollars.

It wasn’t until the publication of Fatal Justice (by Potter and Bost, 1995, W.W. Norton Publishers) that the full extent of McGinniss’s betrayal was documented, and many of the case myths he created were exposed as such.

CASE FACT

Prosecutor James L. Blackburn was tried and convicted for multiple felonies, including changing court documents, forging judges’ signatures and stealing money from clients.

Years after his success in helping to send Jeffrey MacDonald to prison, the law firm for which former MacDonald prosecutor James Blackburn worked discovered that he had faked a lawsuit, prepared phony court orders, forged the signatures of state and federal judges, and embezzled over $200,000.

Ironically, Blackburn’s “defense” was that he was psychotic and delusional during the time he committed these acts – the same theory the government used to explain why they believed Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his family. However, in MacDonald’s case, expert testimony conflicted with the theory. In Blackburn’s case, psychiatrists agreed it was true.

In another ironic twist, the team prosecuting Blackburn proved that he had embezzled money in order to lead a hedonistic lifestyle – a lifestyle well beyond his means. At Dr. MacDonald’s trial, the prosecution succeeded in portraying MacDonald, to the working class jury members, as a hedonist – living the “good life” in California, with a boat and expensive car. The fact is, MacDonald was living a life typical of, and within the means of, any successful doctor. But Blackburn succeeded in making this look somehow “criminal” at trial, and later committed crimes himself, in order to live the type of life on which he had earlier cast aspersions.

It is interesting to note that two other MacDonald prosecutors, Jay Stroud and Warren Coolidge, also later committed criminal acts – Stroud for manipulating a witness and Coolidge for fraud. What are the chances that three prosecutors involved in the same case would end up disgraced, disbarred and/or imprisoned? And, given these actions, what is the chance that the instance in which they were caught was the first time they committed such crimes?

The subsequent exposure of all three men gives credence to the MacDonald defense’s contention that illegal acts, such as suppression and manipulation of evidence, were part and parcel of Dr. MacDonald’s original trial. If the original prosecution team had consisted of men of integrity, and if all of the facts had been allowed, untainted, in front of the jury, the outcome would very likely have been completely the opposite.

More Information on James Blackburn’s trial and sentencing:

Courier Tribune Article, December 7, 1993

More Information on James Blackburn’s life after serving time in prison:

Raleigh News & Observer (search under “James Blackburn”)

CASE FACT

The destruction of the MacDonald’s apartment at 544 Castle Drive

Fort Bragg fought to regain custody of the quarters beginning in February of 1981, but the Justice Department kept rigid control of them for three years following, citing that the apartment where the murders occurred and its contents might be needed as evidence to offset anticipated defense appeals.

Throughout these same years, defense investigators were denied access to the quarters, as they sought evidence that might help Jeffrey MacDonald.

During a defense appeal in 1983-84, however, court arguments by MacDonald attorneys apparently unnerved the government prosecutor. He suddenly, and without notifying the defense, reversed his stance and allowed the Army to take over the quarters, saying that the contents he had sought to preserve for so many years were now useless.

Many of the items in the apartment belonged to Jeff MacDonald. In lieu of his right to possess those items, the government acted under a regulation that allowed it to confiscate MacDonald’s personal property because it was considered to be evidence in a criminal case. The government is required to pay the property holder for the property while they continue to hold it. The title to the property, however, never changes hands. Once such property is no longer required as evidence, the owner is allowed to retake possession by returning the payment. (Of course, the government had said they no longer needed the apartment for evidence, so rightfully, Dr. MacDonald should have been notified under this regulation, so that he could reclaim his possessions.)

Instead, on the night of June 7-8, 1984, everything in the apartment was completely burned and then buried at the Fort Bragg trash dump. This included all furnishings, the ceilings, walls, doors, window sills, ledges, hardwood floors…leaving nothing but a skeleton of joists and sub flooring.

The destruction also included items that, by regulation, were required to be placed for public auction by the Army – things like furniture, light fixtures, appliances, sinks, etc.

Most importantly, the burning and burying of the entire contents of the apartment destroyed everything that might have been touched or left behind by murderers.

In contradiction, to the regulation cited above, all items owned by MacDonald were also destroyed. This was against the law and done without Dr. MacDonald’s consent. He had been given no knowledge of any change in status regarding the apartment.

As a cover for this deliberate crime, the government claimed in its paperwork that MacDonald had “abandoned” his property, when in truth, he was not allowed access to reclaim his property.

The secret destruction actually occurred while MacDonald’s attorneys were still trying to wrest court permission to examine the quarters. No one informed them that both the quarters and its contents no longer existed.

The Army renovated the premises for new occupants three years later, in 1987.

CASE FACT

Regarding Jeffrey MacDonald’s wounds:

There has been much speculation regarding the extent of Jeff
MacDonald’s wounds, given that he survived the attacks, but his
family did not. At trial, the government contended that Colette had
caused all of the wounds except for one to his lung, which they said
was self-inflicted.

The government contended that a surgeon would know how to injure
himself “safely”, and the seriousness of MacDonald’s collapsed lung
was minimized at trial. Five of the six doctors consulted at the
Army Hearing (Article 32) testified that MacDonald could not have
predicted the outcome of what they termed a very “serious” stab wound
to the chest, which collapsed the lung by 40%. All agreed that the liver
could have been damaged, with death resulting, and that even a doctor
would not be able to predict the outcome of such a wound, should he
inflict in on himself.

Interestingly, MacDonald’s wounds were never photographed, while
those his family suffered were rigorously documented. Womack Hospital photographer John McCaffrey waited for a request to record MacDonald’s wounds, but it never came. “Somebody goofed,” he said.

However, eye witness accounts and medical records describe injuries
to MacDonald that go far beyond those minimized by the prosecution.

For example, the government claimed that MacDonald had only a small
bruise to the head. Doctors Paul Manson and Robert McGann both
observed and testified to seeing ” a large contusion” over his left
mid-forehead area, and another one over the right temple, slightly
obscured by the hairline.

Friend and fellow officer Ron Harrison, when interviewed by the CID,
stated that when he went to the hospital, he not only observed the
bruises on the front of MacDonald’s head, but lumps at the back of the
head, and numerous wounds to the chest, arms and abdomen, and what
he believed to be ice pick wounds to the neck.

Dr. Straub examined Jeffrey MacDonald’s abdominal wound.
He testified at the Army hearing that he “spread it apart, as I recall,
and saw that it had gone through a great deal of the muscle of the
abdominal wall.”

The government made a point of claiming MacDonald suffered no
wounds to the hands or arms. But Dr. Severt Jacobson described
to the grand jury in 1974 cuts he observed to MacDonald’s forearms
and hand “from a very sharp object”. The government also claimed
there were only superficial wounds to the chest, other than the stab
wound, and no ice pick wounds. But Dr. Jacobson told of seeing four
puncture wounds to the upper chest, and multiple punctures elsewhere
(arms, abdomen). The puncture wounds were corroborated by Dr.
Robert McGann and officer Ron Harrison.

Dr. Frank E. Gemma wrote a report on MacDonald’s injuries upon
his admission to Womack Hospital. He, too, noted “several small
puncture wounds that may have come from an instrument such as
an icepick.”

In order to protect their scenario of Colette injuring her husband
in self-defense, the government ignored any and all mention of ice pick
wounds in the records. It would have been implausible for Colette to
have been wielding not only a knife and a club, but an ice pick, as well.
The presence of three different types of wounds from three different
types of weapons gave credence to MacDonald’s account of multiple
intruders.

Considering all the statements from medical personnel, hospital records
and eye witnesses, MacDonald summarily suffered at least seventeen
stab wounds to the hands, arms, and torso, stabbings through the muscle
in the bicep and abdomen, a stab wound to the lung requiring a chest tube and two surgeries, and multiple contusions to the head. He required
resuscitation at the murder scene. He could not save his family because
he was knocked unconscious. (see Q&A section for more on this subject.)

Colette was found with a piece of gouged skin lodged under one of her
fingernails. Kimberley, Kristen and their mother were all found with
foreign hairs, unmatched to their father, under their nails. There were
no scratch or gouge marks found on Jeffrey MacDonald.

CASE FACT

Colette MacDonald’s attacker is believed by experts to have been left-handed. Jeffrey MacDonald is right-handed.

Two of the nation’s foremost forensic pathologists, Dr. Thomas Noguchi
of Los Angeles County, CA, and Dr. Ronald Wright of Broward County,
Florida, researched the fatal blows suffered by Colette and concluded
that they were inflicted by a left-handed person. Greg Mitchell, the man
the defense believes to have been Colette’s killer, was left-handed.
Greg Mitchell’s blood type (O) was also found on Colette’s hands,
but no type B (Jeffrey’s type). A brown hair, has found clutched in
Colette’s hand. Greg Mitchell had brown hair (Jeffrey’s was blonde).
Despite the discrepancy in color, the CID lab tried to source the hair
to Jeffrey anyway, but failed.

ADDITIONAL CASE FACTS WILL BE ADDED PERIODICALLY FOR YOUR INFORMATION.