Alex Constantine - September 22, 2012
Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2012
WILMINGTON, N.C. – Lawyers for convicted killer and former Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald continued to offer evidence Tuesday that they say suggests intruders were in his house the night his pregnant wife and two daughters were killed in 1970.
MacDonald, now 68, is serving three life sentences for the killings, but has maintained that four intruders, among them a woman in a floppy hat, knocked him unconscious and committed the brutal murders at Ft. Bragg, N.C. The killings became the basis for a bestselling book, "Fatal Vision,’’ and a hit TV miniseries.
On the second day of a federal hearing on new evidence, the brother of the late Helena Stoeckley, who the defense says was the woman in the floppy hat, testified that she confessed to being at the MacDonald house the night of the murders.
Eugene Stoeckley, who was 11 at the time of the killings, said his sister told her mother in 1982 that she was present during the murders and that MacDonald was innocent. He described how his mother, also named Helena Stoeckley, gave an affidavit in 2007 detailing her daughter’s confession.
Eugene Stoeckley said his mother told him she was warned by the FBI to force her daughter to stop talking about her alleged involvement. The younger Helena Stoeckley was a heroin addict and police informant.
"She should keep her mouth shut and keep her nose out of the business of the case,’’ Stoeckley said, describing his mother’s words to him in 2007. The elder Stoeckley died in 2009.
Stoeckley testified that his mother described his sister’s 1982 confession as an attempt by the younger woman to "set things right’’ before her death. "She could no longer live with the guilt,’’ Stoeckley quoted his mother as saying.
The younger Helena Stoeckley died the following year.
On cross-examination, prosecutor John Bruce suggested that the elder Helena Stoeckley was unduly influenced by MacDonald’s current wife, Kathryn MacDonald. Kathryn McDonald flew to North Carolina to take part in the affidavit, given by Helena Stoeckley while she was ill and in an assisted living center in Fayetteville, N.C., near Ft. Bragg.
Kathryn MacDonald married Jefferey MacDonald in a federal prison in Maryland in 2002.
The younger Helena Stoeckley told several reporters and TV interviewers that she was at the murder scene, and that her boyfriend and another man killed Colette MacDonald and the couple’s daughters, Kimberley, 5, and Kristen, 2. The boyfriend has since died.
But at MacDonald’s 1979 federal murder trial, Stoeckley testified that she could not remember anything about the night of the murders because she was high on heroin, opium, mescaline and marijuana. The defense introduced sworn statements Tuesday by a former federal marshal, now dead, who said he heard a federal prosecutor threaten to charge Stoeckley with murder if she testified that she was at the MacDonald house.
Prosecutors have contended that Stoeckley’s version of events is unreliable because her cognitive processes had been badly damaged by her years of heavy drug abuse.
The hearing continues Tuesday afternoon.