MacDonald evidence hearing begins in N.C.

Sept. 17, 2012 at 9:37 PM
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WILMINGTON, N.C., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- A lawyer for an ex-Green Beret convicted in the 1970 slayings of his wife and two daughters told a federal court in North Carolina new evidence would clear him.

Defense attorney Gordon Widenhouse told U.S. District Judge James C. Fox "no reasonable juror'' who heard the new DNA evidence would find Jeffrey MacDonald guilty, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Testimony on the first day of the hearing to consider the new evidence centered on a marshal and a heroin addict -- both now dead -- the defense contends was among the four intruders MacDonald claims killed his family and attacked him, the newspaper said.

Widenhouse alleged in his opening statement Deputy U.S. Marshal Jimmy Britt heard the addict, Helena Stoeckley, tell a federal prosecutor in 1979 she and others were inside MacDonald's home the night of the murders. He said prosecutor James Blackburn threatened Stoeckley if she told the story in court and she testified at MacDonald's trial she had no memories of that night.

Blackburn, who was convicted in an unrelated embezzlement case in 1993, is on the witness list for the hearing, the Times noted.

Wade Smith, a MacDonald defense lawyer in 1979, testified Monday Britt told him in 2005 he was "burdened heavily, morally" by something that happened during MacDonald's trial, the newspaper said. Britt said in sworn statements Blackburn said he would charge Stoeckley with murder if she testified she was at the house.

Britt also alleged Stoeckley told him separately she had been there.

"He sort of unloaded his soul," Smith testified.

Prosecutors Monday described Stoeckley as a troubled drug addict and introduced evidence that Britt provided contradictory details about when and where he had talked to her.

The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer reported MacDonald appeared frail in court, dressed in tan pants, shirt and shower shoes with gray hair.

The hearing could last up to two weeks.

MacDonald, 68, has consistently maintained his innocence in the stabbing and beating deaths of his wife and two young daughters in their Fort Bragg apartment. MacDonald contends two white men, a black man and a woman he encountered in the apartment killed his family, and beat and stabbed him.

A federal appeals court last year ordered a hearing on the new evidence, which The News & Observer said could lead to a new trial or even tossing out the conviction.

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