RICHMOND, Va. -- Celebrated appeals lawyer Alan Dershowitz, claiming 'an innocent man is in jail,' argued Wednesday for a new trial for Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Army doctor convicted of slaying his family in the 'Fatal Vision' case.
Dershowitz and his co-counsel, Harvey Silverglate, had to show there was new evidence and that the new evidence would have made a difference at his original trial. On both points, they came under withering questions from the judges and a blistering attack from Justice Department attorney John De Pue.
The two focused on fibers found at the scene of the 1970 crime -- specifically a synthetic hair and black wool fibers.
MacDonald has argued his wife, Colette, and two young daughters were stabbed and beaten to death by drug-crazed hippies at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1970 in a case similar to the Charles Manson murders. A key point in his conviction was the lack of evidence of any intruders.
MacDonald's lawyers argued the synthetic hair came from a wig worn by a heroin user, Helena Stokeley, who later told her friends she had been involved in the crime.
In an earlier appeal, Stokeley was found to be lacking credibility but MacDonald's attorneys argued the fibers would have linked her to the scene of the crime and made her more credible -- especially since she liked to dress in black wool.
Nonsense, argued De Pue, who said the synthetic hair was not the type used in human wigs -- but in dolls. 'Unless the defendant wants to maintain Ken and Barbie did it, I don't see how this helps them any,' De Pue said.
De Pue said the black wool fibers were found in a carpet along with cat hair and other debris and that it proved nothing. 'Every hippie in Fayetteville could have been in the house and not change the case,' he said.
De Pue said the case rests on how MacDonald's own story was contradicted by forensic evidence -- such as bodies being moved and how the word 'PIGS' scrawled in blood on a wall was not written with a bare finger but with a glove linked to MacDonald.
De Pue said there was not enough new evidence to cast a reasonable doubt and even disputed the idea that there was new evidence, saying it had all been made available to MacDonald's lawyers in 1983 and that they had not used it in their first appeal.
Dershowitz argued there was a government 'conspiracy' to mislead defense attorneys by putting the blonde hair in a box marked for black fibers, and that finding the evidence amidst 10,000 pages of documents was akin to 'finding a needle in a haystack.'
De Pue introduced blown-up photographs of the labels, noting they mentioned the synthetic fiber in question.
MacDonald was 26 when his family was slain. The Green Beret suffered some superficial injuries and a lung puncture, but authorities made him a suspect when they could not find any evidence of intruders. The Army cleared him after nine months, but he was indicted five years later.
That indictment was thrown out by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said MacDonald was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. That ruling was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and he was convicted in 1979, after he had left the Army and gone into private medical practice in California.
In 'Fatal Vision,' author Joe McGinniss wrote that MacDonald, prior to his last trial, approached the author about telling the story of his innocence. McGinniss said he agreed, but eventually became convinced he was guilty.
In his book, McGinniss suggested MacDonald may have snapped under the pressure of overwork and overdoses of a now-banned amphetamine. MacDonald denied he took heavy doses of the drug -- his own notes to the contrary -- and continues to deny he killed his family.
A ruling is expected in two to three months.